California passes groundbreaking open textbook legislation

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It’s official. In California, Governor Jerry Brown has signed two bills (SB 1052 and SB 1053) that will provide for the creation of free, openly licensed digital textbooks for the 50 most popular lower-division college courses offered by California colleges. The legislation was introduced by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and passed by the California Senate and Assembly in late August.

A crucial component of the California legislation is that the textbooks developed will be made available under the Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY):

The textbooks and other materials are placed under a creative commons attribution license that allows others to use, distribute, and create derivative works based upon the digital material while still allowing the authors or creators to receive credit for their efforts.

The CC BY license allows teachers to tailor textbook content to students’ needs, permits commercial companies to take the resources and build new products with it (such as video tutorials), and opens the doors for collaboration and improvement of the materials.

Access to affordable textbooks is extremely important for students, as textbook costs continue to rise at four times the rate of inflation, sometimes surpassing the cost of tuition at some community colleges. So, in addition to making the digital textbooks available to students free of cost, the legislation requires that print copies of textbooks will cost about $20.

This is a massive win for California, and a most welcome example of open policy that aims to leverage open licensing to save money for California families and support the needs of teachers and students. We’ll continue to track this initiative and other Open Education Policies at our OER registry.

Originally published on and republished using Creative Commons.

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Victor Westmann's picture

In 10 years something similar will happen in Brazil.

kondo's picture

very innovative, hope something like that happens in zim

Morten Juhl-Johansen Zölde-Fejér's picture

Curious idea to not license it -SA, I thought. That leaves room for quite a lot.

Curtis Marchetti's picture

The textbook price inflation is very disturbing. Although books are imperative for school use, but should not be as expensive as the school because the school is the one that gives accreditation. I guess this is not that practical anymore.

This should have happened 20 years ago's picture

It is good to see; but we are years behind the times.

sledge's picture

Sounds great for the students but, who will write these texts? Will the state demand that the professors write them as part of their job? Barring that option, what is the incentive to the author to write a new text?

bvanevery's picture
Open Minded

Some texts clearly could get done in roughly the manner that Wikipedia is done, although more specifically focused on particular subject matter. We don't need some rock star professor for a text on Physics 101, for instance. Recycling widely available knowledge is apropos. It is a question of who is willing to shoulder the gruntwork for the common good. State funding, private endowments, requirements of tenure, and simple volunteerism are all worthwhile options. No, the greedy free market that wants to saddle young people with as much debt as possible is not the only way to advance higher education. Many people don't seem to understand the importance of education to our national competitiveness, so Federal funding is reasonable to consider as well. For "commodity" knowledge, which seems to be what the law is primarily aiming at, a little cooperative effort could go a long way, much more efficient than the unrestricted gouging the free market advocates.

e-reader's picture

Public school texts are not purchased by students, they are usually provided by the school district for free. In that way, there is really no change for students (except that they will need ditigally-based access now). However, for the district, overall costs, updates to text editions, distribution, and storage create savings in processes and personnel that will more than offset in initial investment required by a change of this magnitude. The top 50 selling books for k-12 used in California are already available in digital formats--often with much richer compliment of companion web sites, links, etc. A decision at the state level in CA merely cements what the publishers know already, that fairly soon, if it ain't available as an e-book, it won't sell...

bvanevery's picture
Open Minded

This isn't just about K-12. AFAIK college texts are *far* from free.