California Governor Jerry Brown has recently signed two new bills (SB 1052 and SB 1053) that pave the way for free, open license digital textbooks for the 50 most popular lower-division college courses offered in California. The legislation, introduced by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, passed the state Senate and Assembly in August.
Textbooks developed under the new will be made available under the Creative Commons Attribution license. This will allow anyone to use or distribute the content free of charge, so long as the authors are appropriately credited. It will also allow teachers to modify the textbooks to best serve their students.
What remains to be determined is who will write these textbooks and whether their quality will be any good. If they turn out to be garbage, or significantly worse than alternatives, students may still find they have to purchase hundreds of dollars’ worth of books each semester. Furthermore, if free digital textbooks are only made available for the 50 most popular lower-division courses, this would leave open the continued gouging of upper division and graduate students and anyone taking any of the thousands of less popular lower-division courses.