Thursday, February 2, 2017

DMCA Takedown Request of Open Source Calculus Book, ha!

Many of you may know that I work at Whitman College and David Guichard, author of the widely used open-source calculus textbook aptly named "Single Variable Calculus", is in my department (in the office right next door).

Not surprisingly, many of us in the dept here use this textbook. Hence, a pdf copy of the textbook sits on one of our dept webservers ( 

A couple of days ago Whitman's tech support folks received a DMCA takedown request from Cengage (a commercial textbook operation) for this pdf file. Lest there be any doubt, Cengage does not own the rights to this text. Indeed, on page 2 of the pdf one can view clearly the creative commons license governing the use of this text. Fortunately, our tech services folks have a good sense of humor and told Cengage to "eff off!"

I'd love to post the actual takedown notice, but (surprise!) the fine print at the bottom of the notice prohibits that. It's too bad that these copyright trolling outfits aren't liable for the time and energy consumed by false claims of infringement.

I'd be interested in knowing if other authors of open-source texts have run into this issue.


  1. I've seen something like that (I work for the fed govt so my math writings are in the public domain). I wonder if you can do this: as a matter of *satire*, is post the DMCA notice and claim (as a joke) *you* wrote that, and that they have to takedown the takedown notice?

  2. Luckily I have not had to deal with this yet. However, you mention it is too bad that there is nothing that can be done? As far as I know, there IS something that can be done. From what I've seen on legal blogs (for example, but IANAL), DMCA takedown requests are done under penalty of purjury. So Cengage could face civil or even criminal penalties for sending this clearly false takedown notice. I'm not saying this is worth pursuing, but if the problem persists, maybe?

  3. I've never had this.

    But isn't it the case that this is all automated, that you got a document from a bot?

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  5. Just to be clear, that notice at the bottom is completely unenforceable.

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    1. If you have certificate like this - you claim that its your own content.

  8. Can you share what the fine print says? I'm asking because I'm curious how they can restrict sharing of a legal document in this way when, presumably, you have not agreed to the terms dictated in that letter (hence the "eff off!").

    Is it claiming the takedown notice itself is protected by copyright and so cannot be shared? That's the only explanation that I can imagine that might make some legal sense, but even that seems shaky given that they are demanding legal action, so of course you'd have to copy that file and share it with everyone to get legal advice on how to respond...

    For reference, I've never heard of this happening with an OpenIntro textbook, but if it did, I'd like to hear about it. (That said, I think most schools just direct students to get the PDF from us rather than posting a copy.)