Open Educational Resources

Curricula Provider Great Minds Suing FedEx Over OER

The curricula provider Great Minds is suing FedEx in New York City federal court, arguing that the delivery, printing and photocopying company should compensate the education organization for the money FedEx makes from requests from schools to copy materials that Great Minds created and makes available for free, on an open license only for noncommercial use.

Open educational resources (OER) are typically defined as free materials licensed through agreements that allow them to be reproduced, shared and modified — or resources that are in the “public domain,” meaning they’re not subject to copyright.

Great Minds, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, offers academic content across a variety of subjects. It has offered a math curriculum, Eureka Math, on an open license created by Creative Commons, an author of those agreements. Great Minds does sell printed book versions of its Eureka Math materials, while also making digital copies available for free noncommercial use by teachers and schools. The company does not allow commercial shops like FedEx to reproduce its materials for free, a spokeswoman said.

The lawsuit could have big implications for the use of OER in schools. Education Week first reported this story Tuesday.

While some teachers and schools using the Great Minds’ Eureka Math product are copying resources on their own, others have taken those resources to FedEx stores. As a result, FedEx is profiting through a “commercial use” of the open resources without proper permission, Great Minds argues. The nonprofit is demanding that FedEx stop doing that copying work — or pay a royalty.

K–12 administrators are paying attention to this lawsuit, even if the implications are probably going to vary greatly by district, said Barbara Soots, the OER program manager for the office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington state, in an interview with Education Week.

Soots’ agency has supported the use of open resources. She informally surveyed some Washington school leaders for their views of the dispute, and said there was some anxiety and much confusion.

One of the biggest concerns is that districts would become tangled in a web of legal questions about their rights — or the rights of a company they hire — to produce the classroom materials teachers and students need right away, she said.

It could end up “placing the responsibility on the educator, or the district, and that’s not really a good use of their time,” Soots told Education Week. Plus, it could impede “one of the stated benefits of open educational resources,” she said, which is their easy accessibility and versatility.

In the lawsuit, Great Minds states that it would not make its materials available for free for noncommercial use “if in doing so it gave up its right to charge a royalty for commercial reproduction.”

FedEx would not comment on the case, citing the ongoing litigation. But in a legal document submitted to the court, the company says that nothing in the open license used by Great Minds prevents schools from delegating copying services to third-party businesses like FedEx and paying for their services.

The money Great Minds collects from agreements with other companies that copy its OER supports the organization’s “continual improvement of its existing curriculum and development of new curriculum,” the company said.

Creative Commons has a copy of the lawsuit on its website. To learn more about the Great Minds suit and its implications, visit Education Week.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].