Open Licensing

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Creative Commons Copyright - The "Open" in Open Textbooks

Creative Commons is a nonprofit corporation that has pioneered alternatives to standard copyright restrictions.

Watch this short video on "A Shared Culture" made by the folks at Creative Commons.

License: CC-BY

Creative Commons: Spectrum of Rights

Below is a cartoon describing the creative commons copyright permissions in more detail. As an open textbook adopter or advocate/trainer you don't have to know everything about these licenses but a general familiarity will help you understand how you may use the materials in the textbooks you are considering.

Spectrum Of Rights Cartoon

License Compatibility

When compiling different media with different licenses together to make an open textbook, it is important to label your created work with the appropriate license. Read here for how to derive your open license when creating a new work with adapted open materials.

Other Expanded Copyright Permissions

Community College Open Textbook Collaborative works predominantly with Creative Commons copyright licenses. The following material is about other forms of copyright. One of the other organizations that has pioneered the concept of extended copyright permissions is GNU which began licensing open software in 1984. Later GNU expanded its licenses to cover manuals, textbooks and other materials.

If you explore open textbooks in depth, you are likely to find some that are covered by GNU rather than CC. The permissions of the CC-Attribution-ShareAlike license are similar to the Free Cultural protections articulated in the GNU Public License.

There are also many authors and publishers who have written up their own custom copyright agreements. As you come across these, read the use agreements carefully. Although understanding Creative Commons will acquaint you with the general issues of extended copyright, each agreement is likely to have subtle variations. Be sure you understand whether you have permission to modify material that is not licensed by Creative Commons and that you cite the author and publisher properly.


Using the COT site, see if you can find something for English Composition that can be modified by you and has also been peer-reviewed. (Hint: Review the Creative Commons abbreviations from the About Creative Commons Licenses)

Lessons on Adopting and Using Open Textbooks

Once an open textbook has been discovered, vetted, and selected, the real work begins!

The process of adopting open textbooks is highly dependent on local policies. This topic explores several examples and give tips for using adopted texts with students. See the College Open Textbook's Guide for Adopting.

Adoption Rules and Policies

The rules for adoption varies from state to state and college to college.

Should I expect my students to buy a bound copy of the textbook or use it online?

Students who use an open textbook online will need access to a computer and an internet connection, preferably a high-speed connection. If the textbook can be downloaded, the students will be able to study the textbook while offline. If you require the students to bring the textbook to class, you will need to provide a computer lab or the students will need a printed or bound copy.

What are the rules for when and how an open textbook must be adopted?

There are as many answers to this question as there are departments in colleges. The onus is on the instructor or professor to determine the state laws, institution rules, and department policies. Many instructors have complete freedom, others have very tight rules. In general, however, the rules are the same as they are for adopting commercial textbooks.

Adoption Best Practices

Beyond the rules are best practices and these can be summarized as No surprises. All stakeholders must be alerted that the class will have a new textbook. Which of these stakeholders would need to know about an open textbook adoption on your campus?

  • Curriculum Committee, Department, Dean or other group that approves textbook adoptions
  • Computer Lab and College network support teams
  • College bookstore
  • Library
  • Media center
  • Print Shop
  • Teaching assistants
  • Students

Timing is everything. Participants in this class should be thinking about adopting an open textbook for a term at least a few months in the future. To adopt too quickly will cause problems for that class and for future open textbook adoptions. The last thing we want are students confused about where and how to acquire the textbook, bookstore managers upset about lost revenues and profits, and peer instructors wondering why all the students are trying to move to the class with the low-cost textbook!

You can complete a time schedule like the one below for an instructor at your college. Add additional tasks based on your situation.

Task Weeks in advance of the class
Getting approval to change textbooks
Alerting colleagues in the department, especially those who teach the same class
Discussing purchases of the textbook with the bookstore manager
Providing teaching assistants and adjuncts with the textbook. The latter is in case you are unable to teach the class and someone must take your place.
Getting information about the textbook into the paper and online catalogs.
Providing written instructions about how to obtain the textbook including options (online, offline, self-printed, bound copy) and getting this information onto your website and/or into your welcome-students email message.

For instructors who have recently changed textbook, there may be an additional delay. Adopting an open textbook removes the need for new students to be able to purchase used books; even bound open textbooks are less expensive than used commercial textbooks. On the other hand, adoption of an open textbook does not benefit those students wishing to sell a commercial open textbook.

How the Students Will Use the Textbook

College Open Textbooks examined how students gained access to the open textbook Collaborative Statistics. While most said in advance that they wanted a printed textbook, only about 1/3 bought the bound textbook and only one student printed the entire textbook from a computer. She used her employer's paper and toner. Self-printing an open textbook costs more than bound copies. In addition, purchasing a binder is usually required to hold the single-sided volume. The size and weight is greater than for a bound book also.

Instructors greatly influence the choice to use a textbook online versus on paper. If the instructor expects the students to have the textbook in class, either a computer lab must be provided or the students must have a paper copy. Not all students have portable computers and, for those who do, there are issues of battery life, breakage, and theft. If possible, instructors should avoid requiring use of the textbook in the classroom. To point out a specific item in a textbook, the instructor can project that on the classroom screen.

Checklist for Adopting an Open Textbook

While specifics and time schedules vary from college to college and instructor to instructor, the steps in adoption and use can be enumerated and checked off. Some will be eliminated if they do not apply in a particular situation. This checklist assumes that an open textbook has been located and vetted.

Rubric for evaluating quality of remixed open content

Watch as a fictitious professor goes through the process of adopting an open textbook

OER (Open Educational Resource) Handbook for Educator

"The purpose of this handbook is to help you use, create, and share 'open educational resources' (OER). Digital technologies, combined with the enablers of our networked society, provide teachers, lecturers and trainers with new and exciting opportunities to rediscover and implement a core value of education, namely to share knowledge freely"

(OER Handbook -

Some informative selections are highlighted for your convenience below:

Real people - Testimonials of Adopters

Listen to how faculty at community colleges throughout the nation in disciplines as diverse as Sociology, Physics, and Economics adopted open textbooks in their classrooms and hear the reactions of their students.

For Further Information

Weekly Forum Questions

Question #1: What are the policies for adopting textbooks in your institution/state/province? How might these policies help or hinder your adoption of open textbooks? Please continue to brainstorm solutions with each other to the problems you forsee.

Here is an example policy from Anne Arundel Community College's adoption policy:

"Faculty textbook orders need departmental approval and should be placed with your department chair or instructional coordinator, or other designated faculty or staff member within your department. The department chair or instructional coordinator will review and compile the adoptions, then send them to the AACC Bookstore. Please provide as much information as possible: author, title, edition, copyright date, publisher, ISBN, and an estimated quantity (based on estimated enrollment) needed for each course. We strongly encourage you to consider the final retail price when making your textbook selections."