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OUP Not So Funny Stuff

Hello folks, I've sort of reached the end of the road and now it is time for action. It is five years since I discovered a rather offensive video on YouTube extolling the virtues of a course that sounded very like ours then realised that it was published by a publisher that I had been communicating with about out stuff in 2010 and 2011. I remember I was at my mother's flat and had just logged on to do some work and then nearly fell off my chair as my brain went totally numb. I didn't even tell her for ages, I just sat there feeling helpless and like I'd been intellectually raped.

Anyway, this was today's newsletter to the EOT congregation.

 

Subject: Remember this Jason? David (EOT) v Goliath (OUP) article from November 2012 - Here's An Update!

This Oxford thing is still going on!

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Hi there

 
As you know we are tiny and have had a difficult time trying to grow English Out There despite our undoubted success at helping learners to improve their speaking quickly and inexpensively.
 
In 2010 and then in 2011 we had some contact with Oxford University Press who were interested in our unique course content, English Out There, and our (their word) "innovative" methodology because it works with online social media. They received a lot of information from us and we were excited about the prospect of potentially working with them.
 
Strangely both times we had contact with them they sent us rejection emails saying that they weren't going to do anything involving social media or social networks. Which really surprised us because that was why they had been interested in us in the first place! Even spookier, the emails were almost identical.
 
Then, just a few months after the second rejection OUP ELT launched a five course book series called Network Get Connected. It was promoted as "the first" ELT course book to work with social networks and media and they claimed it had "unique" social media tasks.
 
We complained to them and they denied any connection between our courses and theirs and zero connection between the first group of executives we were in touch with and the second. However, they admitted that, just a few weeks after they had rejected us in 2010, they had started work on their course. So, in the space of a couple of weeks their publishing policy had gone from never intending to integrate social media with an English course to developing a five course book series based around social networking and then, bizarrely whilst that was still in production, right back to not intending to do anything involving social media! (the second rejection email in March 2012). Get your head around that!
 
We have complained again and again and they have failed to act. We have not stopped asking for five years. When we tried to raise money online to take legal action OUP threatened to sue us for defamation, three times. We took nothing down and they didn't sue us. Why do you think that might have been?
 
Then we spoke to UK Trading Standards and showed them our course books and OUP's (see above image). They agreed with us that OUP's claims to be "the first" and "unique" were misleading because they obviously were not. They wrote to OUP and told them to take the words off the books and off all online promotional messages. OUP did this without challenge but still denied they had misused any information to develop their course.
 
Here is an interview with me from Alex Case's blog called TEFLtastic from November 2012 when we had just started trying to figure out what had happened. Do I sound a bit confused and frustrated? I was. And the feeling hasn't gone away yet.
 
 
We have tried a lot of things to get to the truth. Twice we spoke to some lawyers who said something was very wrong but they needed lots of money we didn't have in order to do the initial work. Then someone mentioned the F-word and suggested we contact the Crown Prosecution Service. We did that and spoke with a prosecutor. He said he thought it sounded like a fraud and suggested we hire some fraud lawyers to investigate. So, we hired the UK's best fraud lawyers just to read all of the emails between us and OUP ELT executives. Astonishingly, the lawyers told us that they thought three senior OUP executives had committed fraud by false representation (a criminal offence) and they wrote an eight page letter to OUP setting out the detailed allegations and asked OUP to co-operate with us because OUP has an anti-fraud policy that says any and all allegations of fraud against anyone connected with OUP or the University of Oxford will be properly investigated. 
 
OUP have always maintained that they investigated and that nothing dodgy happened but they have never provided any evidence of the investigation (no terms of reference, no list of interviewees, nothing) despite being asked to.
 
Also, their story has seemed to change a little. For example, they flatly deny that any of our course found its way into theirs, specifically the "unique social media tasks", and that they have not used anything from the information we have published and/or sent them, but, a number of times they have used a "public domain" defence. In other words they are saying that our work is in the public domain and could legitimately be an influence on their work. But, if that is the case why didn't they credit us for our ideas, our research and our work that so obviously influenced their work? Surely the biggest and most famous academic publisher in the world would be very careful to cite its sources correctly? You'd think so anyway.
 
We have sent OUP a detailed analysis comparing their course with our course. We even did some probability statistical analysis and contacted some expert statisticians. They said that there was no point running the numbers because it was obvious what had happened. We ran the numbers ourselves and our result said that it was statistically impossible that their course was not fundamentally influenced by our course. We have told OUP this, but still they deny everything and have refused to share any useful information with us, other than that we have obtained via Subject Access and Freedom of Information requests.
 
Our application for data they held (emails, SMS' etc.) that contained our name and course name turned up some interesting documents, although all email addresses (that would have shown who exactly knew what) had been redacted. One internal email was from 2010, just a few weeks before their first rejection email. In it an unnamed executive wrote an evaluation of our course product. It is quite flattering, they really liked it and loved the integration with online social media, which is in complete contrast to the rejection email that we received just a week or so later. Towards the end of their "urgent review" this senior executive even suggested to those copied in that they could take our "format" and use it with some of their existing content. And that is what we think they did.
 
Now, we have really been 'around the houses' and 'through the ringer' on this one and it has had a very negative impact on not only our motivation to continue with the business of teaching and learning English but it has also unfortunately resulted in some mental ill-health (we are talking about someone's life's work here, after all). OUP are aware of all of this but still they deny any connection between our ideas, our content and the two groups of executives we had contact with separately in 2010 and 2011. The second group in 2011, unsolicited, contacted us by email and asked us to go to Oxford to discuss the possibility of working together with our product. As anyone would do, we went. After all, OUP earn over £300m per annum from publishing ELT courses and materials and we wanted to reach a bigger audience and finally get some financial return for the 10 years and 250,000 hours of innovation and development that went into our courses. When we started complaining OUP claimed that none of those three senior executives knew anything at all about the development of their course, Network, a course book series that had been in development for over a year at the time we met them. Now, after we pointed out that one of the executives we met with had not long afterwards written an internal email in which they'd mentioned Network by name and in connection with our course, OUP decided to claim that two of the executives had actually known "little or nothing", not nothing at all as before, but they still maintained that the most senior executive at the meeting, whom we now know ordered the meeting to be set up and who sat on the OUP ELT board that we know for a fact had to approve all new course product development, had still known nothing at all about Network when we met (even though the other two he/she'd instructed knew "a little or nothing") and, even more bizarrely, get this, that he/she knew nothing about Network at all until we started complaining to OUP in October 2012. October 2012 was four months after Network was published. So what OUP are saying to us now, apparently in all seriousness, via the Queen's solicitors, is that one of the OUP ELT board whom we know played an integral part in the "commercial forecasting" of OUP ELT products (their words), managed, apparently miraculously, to help forecast the commercial opportunities for OUP ELT products in 2011/12/13 whilst being blissfully unaware of the only five course book series OUP launched in the 2011/12 period. This being a product that was triumphantly launched with the words "the first" and "unique" on its cover and in promotional messages. But no, no, don't titter, the person charged with forecasting its likely financial success knew absolutely nothing about it!
 
Soon, if OUP maintain their current position of denying anything whatsoever is wrong, that meeting in Oxford will be the subject of a very small legal claim filed by us in the English courts. They have been given a deadline from yesterday to start being reasonable, to finally open up and to apply their and Oxford University's anti-fraud policies.
 
OUP was set up hundreds of years ago by royal decree, this is what it says its mission today is,
 
"As a department of the University of Oxford our worldwide publishing furthers the University's objectives of excellence in scholarship, research, and education. Our main criteria when evaluating a new title for publication are its quality and whether it supports those aims of furthering education and disseminating knowledge."
 
OUP helps to fund the University and pays it many millions of pounds every year.  Anyway, in 2016 we noticed that a paragraph in Oxford University's anti-fraud policy said this,

“2.1.2 the University has no tolerance of fraud within its operations (1), and members of staff or persons acting on behalf of or providing services for the University must not engage in any form of fraud in respect of activity carried out on behalf of the University.”

The footnote read,
 
“1. Fraud may be financial or property-related (including both tangible and intangible property) and may include, for example, deliberate misrepresentation of research in order to gain a benefit or cause a loss.”
 
We spent years researching and honing our “format” prior to the publication of our course books. We pointed out the words above to the Legal Director of OUP by email on 9th May 2015. Just forty days after that email was sent Oxford University updated its anti-fraud policy and the words above were removed without being replaced by new ones with a similar focus and meaning.
 
If you think this matter needs to be looked into properly do share this or write to OUP and tell them what you honestly think, as we have continued to do for the last five years. Sending this to them isn't publishing it so you can't be sued (it's all true anyway), and do please copy us in if you feel the urge to splurge. This is the exact same complaint we publicly made in 2012, 2013  and every year from then until now. This is what the fraud lawyers wrote to OUP in their last letter to them,
 
"We advise that we no longer act for Mr. West. We do, however, record our view, shared by Mr. West, that we do not consider Mr. West’s questions set out in his email of 23rd November 2012 have been answered in any meaningful way.”
 
That was written in 2013. Nothing has been resolved but the denials have got a hell of a lot weirder. We'll keep you posted!
 
All the best
 
Jason