EOT against OUP

Regular interviewee (!) Jason West of English Out There is launching an online campaign against Oxford University Press. Here is the promised interview in which he explains how and why: 

What exactly is your complaint against OUP?

Without using legal terminology the complaints I have with OUP are (but might not be limited to):

1) That they claim their course to be the ‘first’ social media English course. This is obviously not true and they know it. There are other claims too, one is ‘unique social media tasks’, in our opinion they are not unique.

2) That their course is in very important ways, very similar to ours. For example, their units all lead up to a ‘social media task’, basically requiring the learners to speak with an English speaker using the language from the lesson. This in and of itself might seem generically sensible but there are some detailed instructions for teachers that are of particular interest to us. This process, or the expression of it, is what gives us great cause for concern.

3) Also some weird stuff, co-author, Kristin Sherman, saying on Youtube in OUP’s promotional video here that she only started using social media to teach in the last year, that she is not an expert with social media and that she is “on Facebook”. The first two statements don’t really sit well with concurrently authoring five whole course books for use with social media; so that’s eyebrow-raising. The other really odd thing is that I tried to find her on Facebook and I can find only one Kristin Sherman in Charlotte, North Carolina and it isn’t her. Why make that claim if you can’t be found on Facebook? Using another name would be odd if that is what has happened, because teaching online requires total transparency for obvious safety reasons and all of the online educators I know like to build their brand and use their real names to do that. In addition, when I Googled her I only found her on one social network, LinkedIn and she only had 58 connections, which I think is very low for someone now doing what she is doing. I might have missed something but I don’t think I did.

4) That 1), 2) and 3) above are highly questionable and need to be properly and publicly explained because OUP spent a long time talking to us about our course (just under three years)

Can you give us the timeline, including who you were in contact with at OUP at each stage (positions rather than names)?

At the start of 2010 we had an agent in the US contact some publishers to see if they were interested in working with us. She made contact with OUP, who signed a confidentiality agreement with us. We then gave OUP a private online presentation and Q&A, a Powerpoint presentation and some samples. It was a serious and involving process.

On 24th May 2010 after asking lots of questions about social media integration the ELT publisher at OUP that we’d been talking to sent us an email that said integration with social media was not really something they could do. It seemed a bizarre thing to write at the time.

Then in October 2011 we got some great press in Outsell Inc about being in the top 10 uses of social media for formal language teaching in the EU and a director of OUP ELT contacted me by email, asking me to go to Oxford to discuss potential collaboration. I did what anyone in my position would have done. I met with three directors of OUP ELT on 2nd November 2011.

They asked me a lot of questions about EOT and social media which I answered openly. I played an audio ‘before and after’ case study, the one with the typical Chinese adult English learner Jane, where she goes from speaking like a beginner to a comfortable intermediate speaker in just six EOT lessons. I was there for probably a couple of hours.

There was an odd moment that I brushed off at the time and relates to the question below. After they had specifically asked and I had told them how to use social media to get the results we do with our course, the director who had contacted me (who is on the legal side at OUP) surprised me when he said they had a course similar to ours and that they could probably do the same.

I thought it was a bit odd to mention that, especially then and not much earlier. I figured that since they had signed a confidentiality agreement in 2010 we were protected (although, and this is odd too, the directors I met didn’t mention or even allude to the previous contact we had with OUP in 2010). Also, ever since I started EOT loads of people have said ‘Oh, we do that” or ‘We have something similar” and it usually turns out that they don’t. So I said, truthfully, something like “Well, it took us thousands of hours of teaching to get the structure, content and input quantities right so as to enable learners to get into effective social learning conversations.”

I don’t think they mentioned the name of this course they had that was similar but when I saw they’d launched Network – Get Connected I had a better browse of their catalogue. Then I saw it, English for Life by Tom Hutchinson, the other co-author of Network – Get Connected. It came out in 2007, just as we were finalising publication of our materials. It seems they have used English for Life and added the social media element, just as the legal director said they might in the meeting on 2nd November 2011.

I’ve studied one level of the English for Life course and it has to be said it is very close to ours in a number of ways. Firstly that it is so colloquial, secondly that every lesson ends with a positive affirmation (we ask teachers to do this in our manual, I’m not sure how many other courses do this but I think it might be quite rare) and thirdly, if you look at all of the topic and language focus areas and how colloquial they are and different from most course books I have seen, about 60% match ours, across three or so levels. I simply cannot explain the similarity. I know we did not copy their book.

Of course our materials are linked to the CEFR, so that would be an obvious defence, “all courses look the same”…and they do to a large extent if they are based upon the CEFR. However, if as OUP claim, their course is indeed unique, then there should be no other similar courses with similar topic and language focus areas, nor similar intended learner outcomes using the same social networks and tools.

Did they ever give you any hint that they were developing a similar course?

Yes, see above re the meeting of 2nd November 2011. However, they appeared to contradict themselves just five months later when they sent me an email on 20th March 2012 explicitly saying that the use of social networking platforms was not something they could “bring within our catalogue, whether in relation to the current offering or our future publishing plans”.

Looking back, the 2012 rejection email reads a lot like the one from May 2010, in which the OUP ELT publisher said she wasn’t sure that using social media and other methods outside of the classroom “would fit within our current business models”.

Both of those statements, to me at least, seemed very odd considering what they had specifically asked me about and I had provided to them, in good faith.

Why on earth would OUP be developing a course and negotiating to buy yours at the same time?

You tell me?

Have you actually seen the course? How similar is it to EnglishOutThere?

I have seen three levels of Network – Get Connected and one of English for Life. I bought them on Amazon. The similarities that make them both social media English courses are, in our opinion, uncanny.

Do you have any evidence that the authors and editors involved in the OUP title were directly influenced by EOT?

I have database records of an OUP editor downloading samples from one of our websites and the legal director becoming a member of our other site and downloading protected content. Obviously I can’t say what happened to the content after that. And anyway, we gave detailed information to one of their ELT Publishers in 2010 under a confidentiality agreement. The authors, if you Google their names, have virtually zero online reputation between them. That fact, to me at least, seems a little strange, considering that Network – Get Connected is promoted chiefly on the basis that it is ‘the first course to use social networking to help students succeed in English”. I would have thought that a prestigious ELT publisher such as OUP would have wanted to hire authors who have considerable expertise in this relatively new area of English teaching and learning? Wouldn’t you? It just seems odd and gets even odder, to me anyway, when co-author Kristin Sherman starts the OUP promotional video on YouTube with the phrase “I must tell you now, I’m not an expert with social media”. Even that might be fine and an interesting angle from which to commission five social media English course books but the bit about her being on Facebook and my efforts to actually find her on Facebook, make it even more curious. Don’t you think?

Wasn’t it inevitable that one of the big publishers would come up with a course using social media sooner or later?

Firstly, yes it was. But we called our course the ‘first social media English course’ in 2009 in a press release that was picked up by a number of websites. Why would they call their course ‘the first’? Especially after all of the contact they’d had with us and our materials.

Secondly, the words ‘social media’ and ‘social networking’ cover a lot of different platforms and products. I don’t think anyone has argued yet that there is just one type of course that merits the description.

Personally, I can think of a number of alternative ways to use social media and social networks to help people improve their English and I am sure there are teachers, writers and technologists using and working on new combinations of learning content and online social tools as I write this.

However, we made the last ten practices in the EU competition in 2011 that I mention above and I think there were about 80 entries in total. Our way of using social media and social networking to help learners improve their English was different from all of the others in the competition. So, it seems a bit odd to me that OUP’s course is so similar to ours.

Put in that context, and bearing in mind the size of the authors’ online footprints, the YouTube video, the access OUP had to certain information, them grilling me on specifics, the almost identical reasons given for rejection in two seemingly unconnected emails by two seemingly unconnected groups of OUP employees and then, five months later, the launch of five course books….to me at least, it needs independent investigation and a full explanation.

The main page on this title doesn’t even mention social media: http://elt.oup.com/catalogue/items/global/teenagers/network/?cc=global&selLanguage=en Does the cover of the book talk it up more?

That’s the wrong link/product! It is a bit confusing isn’t it. I made the same mistake you just did. This is the link to Network – Get Connected.

The cover has the words ‘social media’ in a box at the top and inside the words ‘the first course to use social networking…’ are very prominent.

Couldn’t it just be the marketing department who are responsible for talking that bit up?

It could, but selling something using a misrepresentation is illegal.

If so, can’t you just go to the British Advertising Standards Authority?

I briefed my local Trading Standards office and, I think I’m allowed to mention this because it is true, they have evaluated my complaint and the evidence and tell me they have contacted the Oxford Trading Standards office.

How likely are you to start legal proceedings?

I’ve been told that there is a good case in relation to passing off. That is serious. I don’t want to comment in detail on anything else. Whether we do start legal proceedings or not depends upon a number of things and most of them are out of our control now. The main one being money to pay the legal fees.

We (Languages Out There Ltd) are tiny, I am the only employee of the company these days (when we had the year round school in London we got up to 12 to 15 staff at one point); it is me, two computers and some incredibly effective content that I try to make money from for me, the company and our shareholders (all of whom worked on or with EOT for years).

It has been incredibly tough and I have a young family that I want to provide for (although in a purely financial sense I have not been doing a very good job of that for the last four years). Janne, my partner and the mother of our two boys has been incredibly supportive of me. Not many people would have put up with what she has. I don’t wish to cause unnecessary trouble for anyone or further hardship for my family but those who know me know that I have always had a very strong sense of right and wrong.

In contrast to our situation OUP gave £53m to Oxford University this year, have 5,000 employees and publish 26 other young adult courses amongst possibly the largest ELT course book catalogue on the planet. They are one of the top three ELT publishers in a market estimated to be worth in excess of $60bn per annum and boast in their annual report that one in five English learners uses their content.

We will need money to take legal action and the only way I can see that we can possibly do it is to ask the crowd to get behind us and ask them if they will donate to our campaign.

Wouldn’t you need a lot more than 30,000 pounds to successfully sue OUP?

Yes, probably, this could just be the start. I’m under no illusion as to the scale of the task. But I’d embrace anyone in ELT who looked at the facts and decided to back us. This isn’t just about EOT or me, I think it’s about the way ELT has been and still is run; by the few for the few. It is out of date, arrogant and elitist.

In my opinion what has happened to EOT is poignantly illustrative of the main problem for big old publishers. That the tide is turning fast as far as technology, pedagogy, transparency and inclusiveness are concerned.

I think it is also quite appropriate that the creators of the world’s first social media English course (EOT) should use social media to defend themselves against an industry giant (OUP) that appears to have not quite understood the medium it so wishes to exploit.

Questions and comments for Jason below please, and more info about this campaign and donations here.

More from Jason West and LanguageOutThere on TEFLtastic:

A London summer school with no classroom

The end of accreditation?

Jason West dishes on Guardian Languages and sets the TEFL world to rights

More on crowdfunding in TEFL:

Using crowdfunding for TEFL-related legal action

Could crowdfunding work in TEFL?

This entry was posted in Oxford University Press (OUP) and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to EOT against OUP

  1. alexcase says:

    I’ll start the comments off:
    – How about any money raised which is not used (and some percentage of any settlement that is made) going towards a TEFL legal fund? (https://tefltastic.wordpress.com/2008/04/29/tefl-reform-proposals-part-two-legal-fund/)
    – Where you’ve paraphrased emails above, can you quote the exact wording? (A real pain I know, as I did exactly that for my recent TEFL International post, but you’ll need to do it sooner or later anyway)

  2. Absolutely, if what has happened to us can help fund and bring about further badly needed change then please, start donating whatever you can afford now….and share.

    From the OUP ELT publisher’s email of 24th May 2010:
    “Supporting communicative skills using social media and other methods outside the
    classroom would be a significant departure from our current core business. Whilst I absolutely see the benefit to students in providing this, I am not sure that this would fit within our current business models.”

    Second approach of 29th October 2011:
    “I represent Oxford University press in the area of rights and business development. My attention has been drawn to your innovative service and I would appreciate and [sic] opportunity to make introductions and discuss whether there might be any areas of potential collaboration. Would you be available for meeting in the week of 31 October? I look forward to hearing from you.”

    The same director sent this in an email on (not previously disclosed) on 24th January 2012:
    “Thanks for your follow-up emails and message that you left earlier today. A happy new year to you, too. Apologies for the silence from my side. I’m still awaiting a fully formed response from my editorial colleagues about their assessment of the LOT materials. I had some initial comments through that suggested a need for greater engagement with the materials to get a better sense of their worth. I have a meeting with one of the reviewers this weeks [sic] and will press for a speedy response. I’ll get back to you with an update early next week.”

    I sent more and more detailed information, making it crystal clear what the crucial element of EOT and our materials was that made them so effective. I feel like a bit of a fool now.

    From the OUP email of 20th March 2012:
    “LOT’s approach to the ELT market and reaching teachers and students via social communication platforms is genuinely interesting. However, assessed from the perspective of a publisher, we do not feel that LOT offers the type of materials that we could bring within our catalogue, whether in relation to the current offering or our future publishing plans.”

  3. alexcase says:

    Having re-read it and thought about it, it seems likely that the second meeting was actually for OUP to see whether they thought they could publish the Network course as it was without the threat of legal challenge from you, i.e. they had no intention of publishing it (the previous OUP US meeting was probably unconnected and more genuine). Seems to be the only explanation that fits the facts – Network must have been well into development by that point and they’d hardly cancel it and publish EOT instead, and he was from the legal side. It is more than likely that the marketing side knew nothing of this when they decided to use the word “first”. None of this makes their actions any better, just seems the most likely course of action from their side.

  4. While I sympathise with you on the basis of your story, as I think most people would, I’m not very clear about the exact nature of any of the three complaints that you mention here. I think you’d need to provide more specifics and focus before you could hope to attract backers for any legal action.

    Your third complaint is, I think, the weakest. It seems to boil down to your view that the author of OUP’s course book may lack the necessary knowledge and experience of social media. Maybe you’re right – which might mean it’s not a particularly good course. In any case, that’s a matter of judgement for OUP, isn’t it?

    Your first complaint, as Alex pointed out, seems to focus on false marketing of their course – i.e. that it’s not the ‘first’ social media English course and the social media tasks are not ‘unique’. Again, you may be right. However, claims like this are open to different interpretations, which can make it difficult to force the advertiser to change them. The word ‘unique’, for instance, is very common in blurb for language teaching materials. In a random test, I just took four books off my shelf and one of them duly claimed to be ‘a unique concept’. A claim of ‘uniqueness’ is, in any case, fairly meaningless – since every book, every task is in some way ‘unique’, so I think any publisher is on pretty safe ground in claiming their products are unique. I don’t like vague language like this in advertising, but I wouldn’t want to base a campaign on it – particularly as meaningless blurb like this is so common in our industry. You might have more success in challenging OUP’s claim to be the first social media English course – though that also depends on what is considered to be a ‘course’ in this context. If OUP argued that, in the context of this blurb, ‘course’ could reasonably be intended to refer to a published set of materials, incorporating a set of physical books etc), then they might be off the hook. But even if you succeeded in your argument (which seems perfectly reasonable to me), what’s the most you would gain? A change in promotional wording. Is it worth it?

    Your second complaint really is the biggie – and in my view, the only one potentially worth pursuing. But it’s not clear to me exactly what you’re alleging and what evidence you’re basing it on. If you are saying that they copied your work, you’ll need to make that clear and provide evidence. General similarity isn’t enough. Course books tend to be quite similar in many respects in our field – and ideas about how to structure lessons etc are similarly widespread and hard to pin down in terms of intellectual property. Successful attempts to claim intellectual property in our field are few and far between (one example being ‘jazz chants’, which Carolyn Graham has trademarked). You haven’t been specific about the evidence that the OUP course has copied elements of your own. The fact that both courses have units which lead up to a social media task, and have a positive outcome seem pretty vague similarities – and pretty much in keeping with traditional ideas about structuring language input and practice. I think that to put together a stronger case, you’d need to have a side-by-side comparison, showing that unique prior content from your course had been copied by the OUP one. That, for me, would be the starting point for an intellectual property dispute – but you need to spell it out in detail before, I think, you can build a credible argument on this basis – legal or otherwise. In legal terms, your reference to ‘passing off’ confused me. Passing off is when a product or service is made to resemble an existing one, so that potential consumers are deceived – e.g. my local fast food restaurant called itself ‘McDoner’ and had some fairly familiar lettering etc. It didn’t last long. I can’t see how your complaint fits into this at all.

    Sorry if this seems harsh. You must feel hard done by. But unless you’ve got a cast-iron case for theft of intellectual property, my advice would be to just bite the bullet and move on.

  5. @AlexCase, that’s a very reasonable and possibly plausible explanation you have suggested in your comment, but it doesn’t explain the timeline of events and to my mind at least, the inherent contradictions it contains.

    @Martinmcmorrow, thanks a lot for your comments. Everyone will have their considered opinion, and that’s just how it should be. I believe there’s a legal concept called ‘Reverse Passing Off’ and I was informed of it by an IP barrister. He also advised me to speak to Trading Standards, to see what they thought. The campaigns I have set up deliberately contain no allegations but set out a timeline and the facts of the contact between us and ask for a public explanation from OUP. I hope that it is forthcoming and transparent and will share it with our followers, if appropriate.

  6. alexcase says:

    I agree with Martin that you’re barking up the wrong tree with the criticism of the authors for writing about something they know nothing about. Do you really think the authors of whole ranges of exam textbooks have taught everything from KET to IELTS?

    I also wonder if you’ve made a tactical error by launching a campaign for them to explain themselves at the same time as a fund to sue them.

    On a more positive note, have tried to friend one of the authors on LinkedIn so I can send her a message, and have found that Tom Hutchinson is a regular blogger on the OUP blog, so if you can’t find any other way to contact him you could try leaving a blog comment for him there. Could you tell us what efforts you’ve made to contact people at OUP and what the responses have been?

  7. silversal says:

    When I started teaching online in 2010, my research for great online materials brought me to English Out There via a great interview between Jason West and Kirsten Winkler. Anyone who has studied and worked with the materials can see how they are unique in many ways.

    One way or another, it must be legally determined ‘whether’ OUP ‘copied’ EOT.

    I think it’s very easy for the publishing giants to the usurp rights of small entrepreneurs, as they must know that independent educators etc. do not have to funds to challenge them. However, as Jason pointed out above – social media is becoming the new equalizer – raising awareness is something we CAN do.

    Whoever is really interested in the case will have to study Jason’s materials, recordings etc. to get the wormhole view and well as big picture. EOT has a huge, impeccable digital footprint. I like what Alex says about a TEFL legal fund. This is about all edupreneurs, ELT writers and small businesses.

    I’d like to thank Alex for his objective and prudent questioning, which helped Jason to explain such a complex case so well.

    Of course there are many questions for those of you just popping in to learn about this now – we really must give it the full attention it needs and deserves for the good of ELT.

    There’s probably much more I could say – and much more research I must do to catch up with developments – let the discussion continue.

    A message to ELT giants is ‘ordinary people have the power to make great changes’

    PS – last thought.

    Perhaps as ELT giants become large unwieldy corporations they lose touch with the basic creativity of those of us at grassroots. How easy for them to milk grassroots of the passion & innovation that corporate giantism has lost – as in Kafka’s ‘CASTLE’.

    This milking will get relentless, we are at a turning point.

  8. @AlexCase, I didn’t say we are going to sue OUP. The fund is for legal work, which can include information analysis etc. The point about the fund and petition is this. We use social media transparently to communicate with our followers and others and this is something we want to talk about as openly and fairly as possible. If openness is a strategy then we are guilty as charged.

    Re expertise, I personally am not enamored by the cult of the expert but it seems strange to add a disclaimer at the start of everything and have virtually no online footprint. Let’s find out, I think we deserve an explanation. We have sent an email to OUP. They have not replied yet. I hope they take this discussion as being appropriate seeing as the subject is a product published specifically to be used with online social media and social networks.

  9. alexcase says:

    This is just a suggestion, but if you do decide you’ve been ripped off but can’t get any satisfaction through the courts etc, why not make EOT free and open source in the hope that you can overwhelm their course that way?

    Tom Hutchinson and “someone in publishing” viewed my LinkedIn profile yesterday, so I guess they are aware of what is going on.

  10. alexcase says:

    Had you already emailed your contacts in OUP before you started this public campaign?

    Any idea when advertising standards might get back to you? I’ve always imagined they act quite quickly, because otherwise the advertising could be over by the time they react…

  11. Fair enough, Jason. But without any allegations of wrongdoing, you don’t actually have a case on which to base a campaign, or a petition to Oxford University (based on what injustice, exactly?!) and to solicit ‘crowdsourcing’ funding for some undefined ‘legal work’ – can’t you see there’s no chance whatsoever that you’re going to gain any significant funding on that basis? The funds that have been raised seem to have been actually purchases of your course packages. Nothing wrong with that – but it’s hardly rock solid evidence that these people are actually backing your campaign.

    From what I can tell, it seems that OUP discussed your project with you and decided it wasn’t for them. Then they launched a programme which has some aspects similar to certain elements of yours (as all ELT materials do). As hard as it may seem, they have, on the face of it, done nothing wrong. They took a look at what you had to offer and decided it wasn’t for them, as they do every week. Maybe your approach got them thinking about a course book in that area? Or maybe they already had something on the go – generally coursebooks have a five-year gestation period (judging from a MacMillan course I was involved with a few years ago and what the commissioning editor told me at the time – so as soon as one course was launched, he began the next project, on the assumption that each course would have a five-year lifespan). Anyway, it doesn’t stop you from carrying on with your own work, anymore than the local cafe might have to put up with Starbucks opening up around the corner. If they provide a better service, the customers will still come to them. David didn’t beat Goliath through crowdsourcing, petitions or legal action. He beat him because he was better. If your product is actually better, you really have nothing to fear.

    If you want to persuade us, however, that you’ve been the victim of a ‘tort’ regarding your intellectual property, then you need first need to firstly define what the stolen intellectual property was (i.e. not the idea of a social media course – that’s too vague – you could hardly sue a publisher for launching a ‘task-based’ or ‘communicative’ course book on the basis that you published one before). Then you have to show that the OUP book has used your intellectual property – again in a specific way. And then you ‘ll need to show that they derived the idea from you – and not from somewhere else (not so easy to do, since most ideas are floating around in some form or other). If you can’t clearly convey your grievance to an audience like this, which is basically sympathetic to you, how do you hope to win over a sceptical and hostile audience in the legal system?

    Your advice that you may have been the victim of ‘reverse passing off’ seems to me remarkably unhelpful. Did the barrister you spoke to actually examine your evidence? Reverse passing off means that someone basically appropriates a product or service belonging to someone else and then makes money from it without acknowledging that it actually was created and belongs to someone else. You’d have a convincing case, in other words, if you could show that OUP had essentially taken your product lock stock and barrel, relabelled it and started selling it as their own product. Otherwise, I can’t see any basis on which you could argue that OUP is ‘passing off’ your course as their own.

    The main merit of your case, I think, is your argument that it’s unfair of OUP to describe their course as the first. It isn’t. Maybe you can get them to revise their promotion – any success you have will, I think, come from evidence-based and focused claims. That’s what’s lacking in your postings so far.

  12. Elena says:

    Here is a chance to ask all questions to the author of the OUP textbook during the Q&A session of her webinars on Social Networking and ELT Pedagogy.

    Good luck, Jason!

  13. @AlexCase – They were emailed before the campaign started. I’ve no idea when Trading Standards will get back to me. I’m looking into how we can make EOT much more widely available for even less (it’s only £5 for 60-hour self-study ebook course at the moment!).

    @martinmcmorrow – I think you make some very good points about evidence. The campaigns I created were to raise awareness of the events and, in my opinion, inherent contradictions. People support causes for all kinds of reasons and, as I mentioned earlier, if we did have to resort to legal action we’d need to raise money. Crowd-funding is pretty normal these days and it has the added side benefit that it is also social so it raises awareness at the same time as potentially being a source of funds. I’m just thinking ahead and laying out the stall using the (free) tools that are available.

  14. alexcase says:

    I’m afraid I must agree with Martin that while there are still things EOT can do, there is basically nothing any online campaign can possibly achieve in this case. You will clearly never raise enough money to sue OUP, any such case is unlikely to succeed (whatever OUP did in fact do) and there is a very good chance that OUP have already considered this possibility and concluded what I’ve said. There is also absolutely no chance that OUP will make a public statement on this matter.

    If you really thought you could achieve those things through crowdfunding and an online petition, then no harm in trying and I hope your experience will be something others can learn from (see my latest post) rather than be put off by. If you always thought it was unlikely to have the effect of getting OUP to explain their actions but thought the publicity couldn’t hurt (as your latest comment half suggests), I think you could have explained that a bit more clearly in the blurb in your two online campaigns (I’m not on Facebook so no idea what is there)

  15. alexcase says:

    Update from the crowdfunding site:
    “Hi folks, OUP have removed the word ‘first’ from all of the course descriptions on their main website, removed three promotional videos from Youtube, and look like they have been amending the product wording on Amazon…lots of work to do after our email and that letter from UK Trading Standards!

    Oh, and whilst they busy themselves removing words and videos from the web their lawyers have sent me a letter claiming I have defamed them!”

  16. alexcase says:

    And here’s one of the emails from OUP, from the EOT site:
    “Erik Gundersen_at_oup.com

    8 Nov

    to Jason West jason_at_languagesoutthere.com

    Dear Mr. West,

    We have been following your social media feeds about OUP’s new product Network. We always welcome feedback on our materials and actively encourage public debate even if, on occasion, the comments are not complimentary. In such cases we always explore the issues raised, and where criticism is misleading or inaccurate, we endeavor to set the record straight. You mention an email you have sent to OUP – can you specify which address this was sent to as it has not come to my attention? I have now spoken to those involved in the creation of Network, and a separate group of colleagues who took part in the previous discussions between English Out There (EOT) and OUP, and would like to share the results of these discussions with you.

    Network is a five-level ELT coursebook series based on an earlier OUP product, English for Life. English for Life started being developed as far back as 2003, and was written by well-known and highly regarded author Tom Hutchinson. The syllabus for Network is based entirely on English for Life, but the social networking element of Network is new, the 40 social media lessons and unit-ending tasks having been developed by author Kristin Sherman and other writers in conjunction with a social media consultant Daniel Latorre. Kristin’s work was borne out of a series of research workshops carried out with teachers in Brazil (June 2010) and Mexico (November 2010) and then confirmed through subsequent research in Taiwan and Korea (April 2011).

    Today many ELT teachers utilize social media as a way of assisting language learning so it’s logical that we would explore ways of supporting them in doing so. EOT and Network both make use of social media, but it is clear that they are very different products and that one cannot be derived from the other. As we understand, EOT is a provider of language courses direct to learners; it offers self-study, community and teacher-mediated lessons both live and online. Within this context, it promotes social network sites as a medium for practice and learning. Network, on the other hand, is a print-based coursebook designed for the classroom and is marketed primarily to institutions. The purpose of the social networking ‘Get Connected’ lessons in Network is to teach critical thinking skills such as understanding online privacy and language skills such as creating a personal profile and blogging in English.

    While the EOT website was reviewed by OUP colleagues in other parts of the organization, no member of the Network team reviewed English Out There during the development of this project. In addition, to our knowledge, no OUP employee enrolled onto a course or purchased materials from this site. There is no reason to suggest, nor evidence to support the view, that your discussions with my colleagues in any way led to the creation of Network. As I have already explained, much of Network’s content was based on an earlier coursebook, and the decision to include social networking elements stemmed from discussions that took place during research trips to Latin America in 2010.

    Your accusation of plagiarism against our two authors is unfair, unfounded and damaging to their reputation and OUP will certainly support them should they wish to defend themselves. We request that you remove all such allegations from the public domain. At the same time, OUP is reviewing all its marketing statements about Network to ensure they are accurate.

    If you wish to discuss this matter further, I encourage you to contact me directly.


    Erik Gundersen

    Executive Publishing Manager, American Adult Courses”

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