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4 Lessons to Learn from the New Mexico School District Book Publisher Lawsuit


Legal battles negatively impact organizations and lawsuits can prove extremely costly, especially where they could have easily been avoided. This reality hit the New Mexico education department in 2017 when Barbe Awalt, co-owner of LPD Press/Rio Grande Books, filed a lawsuit against the department. The premise of the claim was that the education department showed no transparency in licensing from children’s book publishers. Transparency was evident in previous years, but the tide shifted in 2016, when the education department stopped utilizing New Mexican publishers and refused to respond Awalt’s repeated requests for information on how the department chose publishers.

According to Awalt, the education department had violated the state Inspection of Public Records Act since she wasn’t provided with information about the selection process. She sued for $912,000 in penalties and lost sales. The lawsuit was eventually settled by both parties for an undisclosed sum. This case underscores the importance of transparency in the book selection process for government educational institutions.


The Case Against Access Copyright

In another more recent publishing lawsuit, ninety-four (94) Ministries of Education and school boards in Canada filed a lawsuit in February against Access Copyright, a copyright collection agency, to recover what it claims was an overpayment in copyright tariffs. Canadian book publishers were outraged at the very flexible interpretation that the provincial educational institutions were using to apply the new fair use laws. Unfortunately, in the publishing industry, instances where educational institutions have copied and distributed material to students without sufficiently paying the publisher or copyright holder are sometimes abusively common place.

In this particular case, it is estimated that these publishers are losing $50 million each year as a result. Furthermore, Canada’s education sector owes approximately CDN $55 million in copyright tariffs which have yet to be paid.

Both lawsuits highlight the glaring reality that any organization that stores, and distributes, large volumes of printed work must enter into equitable, transparent relationships with publishers. One such solution would be open licence agreements with publishers on terms that allow direct payments to publishers and authors. In both instances, having a well-maintained digital library, backed by an open and mutually agreed terms of licensing could have prevented losses of both time and money.

For any company seeking to store and distribute content; and for any publisher seeking to licence its content to organizations for distribution (whether bulk/wholesale or in smaller quantities), a digital solution may be most ideal and favourable to both parties. The cases above highlights the importance of mutual agreement and understanding between publishers and organizations that distribute content. Here are four additional lessons or guidelines when seeking entering into such agreements:


#1: Have Transparency Without Losing Autonomy

Organizations need to maintain autonomy over who accesses their libraries and the content included in these libraries. This can be challenging for education ministries and public education institutions.  Tax payers’ dollars are at stake and accountability is vital.

Therefore, the process for selecting publishers for these public digital libraries must be clear. This can simply mean including the information on the organization’s website. It can be further reinforced by giving the publishers choices for content licensing. The aim is to be fair and include publishers in the process as much as possible.

Consider including the following steps in your publisher selection process:

  1. Review your country/state/district/province’s education policy.
  2. Review the relevant curriculum for each subject.
  3. Delineate a budget.
  4. Collect data from schools within the district/province. Find out what material has worked in the past and request suggestion for what can work for the upcoming academic year.
  5. Publish a bid in local media for publishers to submit possible content based on the curriculum and identified needs.
  6. Narrow the bids and choose the best from the pool.

#2: Ensure Adequate Content Licensing

Digital content licensing is quite different from print content licensing. The digital world is a complicated web of elements that influence the way we access content. Navigating this web can often be an overwhelming experience for both publishers and education organizations.

Rich Kreisman, co-author of the book 10 Tips for Licensing and Partnering, states that digital content licensing is two-fold; it has both a legal and business meaning. The business perspective involves compensation for the use of content while the legal perspective covers the parameters of the rights granted to consumers of the content.

BookFusion offers the right solution. Our easy-to-use digital library provides secure ways to support content licensing best practices. Publishers will be sure that they receive the agreed compensation based on the given parameters. Educational organizations will worry less about the hassle of keeping track of copyright infringement. It’s a win-win.


#3:  Securely Distribute Books

Security is a prominent issue, especially in the digital world. While physical libraries are vulnerable mainly to physical theft, digital libraries are vulnerable to the following security threats:

  1. Providing unknown users with access to content
  2. Copyright payments are dependent on the number of people who access the content. Executing these payments can lead to security issues.
  3. Loss of integrity of stored data
  4. Hacking and message tampering

Last year , Las Cruces Public Schools has agreed to settle a lawsuit that claimed the district posted publicly accessible copies of a teaching book online without a license or authorization.

BookFusion tackles these challenges head-on by securely distributing content using Digital Rights Management (DRM) and encryption software. Everything we do ensures that content is protected and efficiently managed.


#4: Set Detailed & Thorough Access Rules

One of the greatest advantages of a digital library is accessibility. People who have access to the library can download and use the content on any device. Additionally, the cost of this material is often far less than its printed counterparts.  Accessibility, however, raises the question of how to protect copyright holders and publishers’ rights. It can’t be a free-for-all where anyone has unlimited access to content. A digital library with a secure and established system of controlling access addresses this issue.

Schools and education districts can use well defined access rules with a BookFusion digital library. Simply put, thoroughly implemented access rules allow each eBook posted in the digital library to have its own access control policy. For instance, a publisher could set a limit of 10,000 users for a book published in the digital library. This ensures that they get paid exactly for what is being offered.


Putting It All Together

We should not turn a blind eye to both a lack of transparency in the publisher selection process or copyright infringement. Authors, like singers, musicians and painters, take time to hone their craft. They deserve to be paid for what they’ve produced.


Digital libraries provide a way for educational organizations to utilize and distribute published content in a transparent way, while monitoring the content used within their educational institutions. Transparency, licensing and effective monitoring benefits all stakeholders.


BookFusion provides the most effective digital library platforms for facilitating all three components while delivering a seamlessly integrated solution into any organization. Contact us today so that we can help your institution create the digital library it needs.



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