Earlier this year I blogged about what I thought should go into an open textbook bill (with clarifications the next day). I’m extremely pleased that Senator Durbin has introduced a bill which closely resembles these recommendations and therefore, to my mind, is on exactly the right track. You can read Durbin’s remarks as he introduced the bill, and then study the full text of S. 1714 on GovTrack (where you can also subscribe to a feed of all bill-related activity).
The bill creates a competitive grant program supporting the creation of open textbooks, and most importantly requires applicants to submit:
(C) a plan for distribution and adoption of the open textbook to ensure the widest possible adoption of the open textbook in postsecondary courses, including, where applicable, a marketing plan or a plan to partner with for-profit or nonprofit organizations to assist in marketing and distribution; and
(D) a plan for tracking and reporting formal adoptions of the open textbook within postsecondary institutions, including an estimate of the number of students impacted by the adoptions.
This is terrifically exciting to me, as it will bring a real sense of urgency of impact into the discourse, and provide the OER community with good data and metrics to talk with confidence about the amount of money students are saving thanks to open textbooks.
The most interesting part of the bill is Section 5. on LICENSING MATERIALS WITH A FEDERAL CONNECTION:
In General- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, educational materials such as curricula and textbooks created through grants distributed by Federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, for use in elementary, secondary, or postsecondary courses shall be licensed under an open license.
This language provides nothing short of an NIH-style mandate on all publicly funded curriculum, and does not appear to be limited to the textbooks whose creation is funded by the bill. This is huge! It’s like FRPAA for educational materials!
Those of us who consulted on the drafts during the spring / summer were waiting to see how Durbin would choose to deal with the licensing issue, and the bill takes a middle road, requiring textbooks funded under the program to also use an “open license,” which the bill defines as “an irrevocable intellectual property license that grants the public the right to access, customize, and distribute a copyrighted material.” No specific license (or family of licenses) is mentioned or required.
This is a great day for the open education movement! If you have a representative on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, contact them to make sure they support this legislation!