Cengage Learning pulls textbooks from Kno; Kno sues

All may not be coming up roses in e-textbook land. Sarah Kessler reports on Mashable that one of Kno’s largest-selling textbook publishers, Cengage Learning, is attempting to pull its material from Kno’s store—and Kno is suing for breach of license agreement.

Though Kno deals with about 40 publishers, Cengage’s content has historically made up 25% of its overall sales. However, Cengage doesn’t like the way Kno allows users to copy and paste passages from textbooks into a separate journal view, considering it an unauthorized derivative work. The publisher gave Kno 30 days to correct the issue, then terminated the license—at one of the busiest times of the year for textbook sales.

Kno is continuing to sell Cengage books while its suit is pending.

As Kessler points out:

Cengage’s quickness to terminate its contract with Kno highlights the precarious situation businesses like Kno face. Cengage sells books in a similar format to Kno’s at CourseSmart, Chegg and CafeScribe. Putting its books on another such platform is a matter of handing over the paper versions for reformatting, and thus its commitment to one platform or another is minimal.

This is more or less the opposite of the mass-market e-book publishing situation right now—rather than just a few powerful platforms, there are a lot of little ones. This means that individual platforms do not have a great deal of leverage in negotiating with publishers over features.

It’s not really clear what good can come out of this for Kno. It’s having to spend money on the legal battle, of course, and even if it wins Cengage simply won’t renew the license when it expires naturally.

It’s also a bit annoying that the company scrupled over the ability to copy and paste text. It seems pretty clearly fair use to me. I mean, how do they think students took notes in the old days?

Still, it’s pretty early days for e-textbook publishing yet. We’ll just have to wait and see what comes.

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