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This Copyright Dispute Is at the Center of an Education Policy Controversy

This Copyright Dispute Is at the Center of an Education Policy Controversy
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It might not be clear from the name, but Great Minds v. FedEx Office and Print Services, Inc., a copyright infringement lawsuit that recently went before the Second Circuit Court in New York, has the potential to upend how students learn math.

At first glance, the case looked like a fairly straightforward dispute—a small, non-profit education publishing company alleged that FedEx violated its copyright by printing copies of its mathematics curriculum. But two factors make this case exceptional. First, FedEx was printing copies of the materials at the request of several school districts in New York, as opposed to the districts printing the copies themselves. Second, the publishing company, Great Minds, had made its math curriculum freely available online using an open content license. In other words, the materials are open educational resources, or OER. On March 21st, the Second Circuit Court overturned Great Minds’ appeal, finding that school districts can continue to use third-party printers to make copies of open resources.

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So, a court ruled in favor of schools in a copyright infringement case. How much does that matter, really? Well, a lot. For one, this legally binding decision has helped to bolster access to important classroom resources for under-resourced schools across the country. But beyond the surface-level impact of the court’s ruling, the case also points to a deeper need for states, school districts, teachers, and companies to better understand copyright permissions—and, in the case of OER, to understand the terms of open licenses. More open access to educational content is ultimately good for students—but adults need to make sure that they’re getting it right when they share their content online.



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