Open Access Textbooks

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Appendix A

Varied Characterizations of Open Textbooks

Definition or Description


An open textbook is an openly-licensed textbook offered online by its author(s). The open license sets open textbooks apart from traditional textbooks by allowing users to read online, download, or print the book at no additional cost.


For a textbook to be considered open, it must be licensed in a way that grants a baseline set of rights to users that are less restrictive than its standard copyright.[6][7] A license or list of permissions must be clearly stated by the author.[8]

Generally, the minimum baseline rights allow users at least the following:

  • to use the textbook without compensating the
  • author
  • to copy the textbook, with appropriate credit to the
  • author
  • to distribute the textbook non-commercially
  • to shift the textbook into another format (such as
  • digital or print)

Many authors also grant rights such as:

  • to add, remove or alter content in the textbook,
  • often on the condition that derivative works must
  • have the same license
  • to copy and distribute the textbook without giving
  • credit to the author
  • to use the textbook commercially


complete digital textbooks that are accessible online at no cost, and they are affordable to purchase printed as a book

Student Public Interest Research Groups (Student PIRGs)

An emerging development in OER is open textbooks, which are textbooks that are freely available with nonrestrictive licenses. Covering a wide range of disciplines, open textbooks are available to download and print in various file formats from several web sites and OER repositories. Open textbooks can range from public domain books to existing textbooks to textbooks created specifically for OER.


also OER Commons

Open textbooks are free online textbooks that are available for download. In addition, users may choose to customize and to print any part of the online text. In this way, professors can make changes to the content in order to better suit their personal teaching styles. Depending upon the preferences of the original author of the material, it may even be possible to request professionally bound printed copies of the content for just $10 to $20.

Top Colleges

Already, more than 1,300 professors across the country are using open textbooks - which are free online, affordable in print and openly licensed – saving students 80% on average according to the new report (A Cover to Cover Solution, Student PIRGs).

Cable Green’s Blog

Open textbooks are typically authored by faculty and published on the web with the support of universities or new commercial companies. This new business model enables free online access to textbooks. Open textbooks are usually governed by Creative Commons licenses that enable users to download, customize or print the textbook without expressed written consent of the author.

California State University, Affordable Learning Solutions

...textbooks that are made freely available by their authors and can be chopped up and manipulated by professors who use them.

Inside Higher Ed

Unlike commercial e-books, open textbooks are accessible online at no cost, very affordable as a print book, and are licensed to allow faculty to legally access and reformat copies of the text at no additional cost.

College Open Textbooks Ning

Open textbooks are a long-term solution, because they offer a range of affordable options including print copies, PDFs and free web-based versions that can reduce costs for all students. (from the Cover to Cover Solution Abstract, Student PIRGs)


Open textbooks are often written collaboratively and always give students legal permission to use the material at no cost.

Jamie’s Distance Learning Blog

Open textbooks are available for free online under an open-source license, which allows professors to customize the text. Students who would like a hard copy of a book can choose from a variety of lowercost printing options.


Funded by Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE)