California passes groundbreaking open textbook legislation

Timothy Vollmer

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.

25 thoughts on “California passes groundbreaking open textbook legislation”

  1. Great public policy to cut down on education costs! Go Governor Brown!!! Ironic, though, that all financial aid awards will still base the California students “expected family contribution” with a guesstimation of book costs and so students will actually be “granted” MORE NEED BASED AID THAN THEY NEED.

  2. This is truly ground breaking!

    Every other state and country will follow because it will be impossible for publishers to compete with a living, breathing, constantly improving knowledge base… what a textbook should be!! Creative Commons FTW! Grateful to everyone who made this happen.

  3. This builds on successes like Washinton State’s Open Course Library. I am encouraged by this innovative and efficient use of tax dollars, and I hope other states will recognize and emulate this wise investment.

  4. this is awesome, i hope spain, my country, does something similar soon.
    The children textbooks are a scam, they “update” them every year to avoid book reuse.

  5. About time this happens. Now if they can make state course classes recorded and archived. No need to have to pay tons of teachers and professors for topics such as history, math or english in which the same stuff is taught each year. Sure if people want to learn in class or in person, let them, but lets start making things easier to access.

  6. The access to open textbooks can make a real difference to students who are attending community colleges by eliminating one more barrier to affordability. Of course, this assumes that faculty are aware and motivated to adopt open textbooks in their courses. At the Community College Consortium for OER at the OCWC, we work actively with faculty and staff to create awareness of the benefits of open educational materials and to share best practices from community college leaders.

  7. I hope this isn’t literally true: “The legislation requires that print copies of textbooks will cost about $20”

    This implies that a CC-enabled derivative version couldn’t be free. Did you mean that ~$20 is the MAXIMUM cost?

  8. I’m sure this will help the unemployment rate as the textbook companies lay off staff to offset declining revenues. No worries, though. As long as I have my iWhatever.

  9. We need to get on this train in South-Africa! Students are struggling to afford textbooks and I believe that knowledge should not be bounded by finances.

  10. The text continually talks about “high-quality” but fails to define that or, as far as I can see, any definition of how that should be achieved and checked. Does anyone know if that’s defined somewhere? If not then this looks a bit like a trap. Set quite a few special requirements such as disabled access (if it’s CC-SA, this isn’t as important in the first version; anybody can add it later by making a derivitives targetted at specific groups of disability) to increase the initial price. Spend “lots” of money on something that ends up being produced by the lowest bidder. End up “proving” that CC text books are no good.

    The books are to be approved by the “California Open Education Resources Council” which seems to be constructed without any requirement to have people who have ever written let alone edited or published an educational text book. Worse still, since they are senior faculty members who tend to be recruited either from research or from the financial side of educational establishments it seems that they are to be people without any particular experience in teaching methods and probably even little experience in teaching.

  11. @Ryan

    There has to be some way to pay for the printing costs of the books. $20 is nothing compared to the $100+ that we have to pay for each book! It didn’t specifically say that $20 was the maximum, but I think it will be more fair.

  12. So how do the textbook companies make money? And what will this do to the quality of the textbooks?

  13. California once again benefits the rest of the country (and the world for that matter) by taking the next step. In their stricter air-pollution regulations, vehicle standards, groundwater protection, and consumer labelling requirements, California has repeatedly demonstrated to the rest of the country that some advances can be made and benefit almost everyone without the sky falling as effected industries predicted. Even when a new concept doesn’t work (utility deregulation, for instance), everyone else benefits by learning to NOT do that themselves. But this act? With the success of Wikipedia, Khan Academy, etc? It is obviously the future. By being the first, California almost assures that its universities and professors will be the ones to “write the book” for the next few decades.

    Textbook publishers have killed the goose that laid the golden egg. With their incredibly frequently revised editions with chapter and problem sets reorganized only to prevent the use of older editions, dumbed-down science texts to appeal to the most low-brow states, and truly excessive prices (everything else costs LESS with modern word processing and off-shore production); they have priced themselves out of the market now that there are alternatives.

  14. This is a great move for California students to interact with the materials and give them the chance to be in control of their own learning. The material will also be improved as well as the quality of learning for generations to come.

  15. This is a great initiative by California Govt. Free text books will be of great help to those who couldn’t afford costly books. Again this is very nice thing that those free books will be released under CC license.


  16. This is the greatest and most honest way for our kids to get to take advantage of there own future. The way things are today theres not enough change in a small amount of time.. Wow what an effort to help the world progress without being subjected to goverment fate…I got one child and always worry about funding educatiion so hope this intelligence reaches us! Hell the Bible is free..

  17. Not to be a big party pooper – but most OER is complete crap. Not vetted. Contains unlicensed images and other IP which should be better protected, etc. As a content creator myself (music and fiction) I am very skeptical of “Open” and “CC” licenses. I can often find mis-use, lack of citation or downright infringement. Not that people do so on purpose – but they just don’t understand copyright and think CC and ‘fair use in education’ give them much more license than they actually have.

    I should also add that it’s pretty laughable to think of the dysfunctional CA bureaucracy getting involved with the creation of open textbooks. Im not even sure if it’s legal to spend taxpayer money on that endeavor. But in any case – it’s very naive to ignore the vast experience and expertise in many areas that publishers bring to the table in the production of rigorous and quality published materials. Not to mention the protection and revenue model (albeit small) they provide to tens of thousands of photographers, authors, musicians, designers, developers, and other content and platform creators.

    Of course the governor is thrilled to be able to promise cheaper textbooks for CA students – but this really is a smoke and mirrors game for the epic mismanagement of the state’s affairs. A failure which has our schools and colleges broke, bleeding, and near the bottom in so many categories. Will crummier, but cheaper textbooks make a difference?

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