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New Bill Proposes Open Source Requirement for Publicly Funded Books 317

Posted by timothy
from the return-to-the-commonwealth dept.
fsufitch writes "On September 30th, the 'Open College Textbook Act of 2009' was introduced to the Senate and referred to committee. The bill proposes that all educational materials published or produced using federal funds need to be published under open licenses. The reasoning behind it takes into account the changing way information is distributed because of the Internet, the high price of college and textbooks, and the dangerously low college graduation rates in the US. Will a bill such as this endanger publishing companies in the same way Internet journalism endangers traditional journalism?"
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New Bill Proposes Open Source Requirement for Publicly Funded Books

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  • Seems fair to me. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WiiVault (1039946) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:11PM (#29608689)
    If the public pays for the research and creation they should have access to the intellectual product for no additional fee. It's silly that it isn't this way now. Of course we can all thank our corrupt congress critters for that.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by qoncept (599709)
      Yeah, I'd say it's pretty much common sense. A city doesn't pay to have a playground built in a park just so the construction company can say who can and can't use it.
    • by causality (777677) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:37PM (#29609067)

      If the public pays for the research and creation they should have access to the intellectual product for no additional fee. It's silly that it isn't this way now. Of course we can all thank our corrupt congress critters for that.

      Look at the reasons given in the summary:

      The reasoning behind it takes into account the changing way information is distributed because of the Internet, the high price of college and textbooks, and the dangerously low college graduation rates in the US.

      Those are all reasons of convenience. There is no principle in them. I don't fault the summary or its author for viewing it this way, as I believe it just reflects where we're at in this superficial society. As you say, there is an overriding reason why any textbooks produced by open funds need to be released with open licenses: because the public is paying the tab and therefore has a right to it. If the publishers don't like that, they can produce and sell goods on their own with no such assistance like almost every other company. This is the outcome that should happen regardless of whether it's convenient or inconvenient for anyone. It sure would be nice if that were more widely appreciated.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        If this bill passes, it won't change anything. The professors that write these books will simply reject the U.S. funds and get money from other places like IBM, Microsoft, Ford, and so on. Professors want to be reimbursed for their many hours of work, not give books away for free (or cheap).

        • by amicusNYCL (1538833) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:45PM (#29609175)

          That's fine then, that means more public funds available for other projects.

        • Re:Seems fair to me. (Score:5, Informative)

          by zolltron (863074) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @03:05PM (#29609409)

          If this bill passes, it won't change anything. The professors that write these books will simply reject the U.S. funds

          That's just not possible. Almost all universities run on federal funds. If a given professor's research isn't sponsored by federal funds, the cost of the building in which she works almost certainly is (at least in part). The concept of "rejecting" U.S. funds is like rejecting your paycheck, you worked hard to earn it, you take it.

          and get money from other places like IBM, Microsoft, Ford, and so on.

          These places are giving out money for biology, chemistry, theoretical high energy physics, english, history, philosophy, sociology, psychology?!? Maybe a little, but not much.

          Professors want to be reimbursed for their many hours of work, not give books away for free (or cheap).

          First, we (professors) are reimbursed, we're paid by our university to produce exactly this sort of work. So, professors who are being paid for their textbooks are (in a sense) double dipping. We are also grossly underpaid for the amount of work and the level of qualifications, so I can't really fault someone for this, but it is double dipping.

          Second, we don't get much for books. We do give them away for cheap.

          • by Amouth (879122) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @03:42PM (#29609923)

            If i write code at work - it belongs to the company i work for - and is up to them what happens with it.

            If i write code at home - it belongs to me - and I decied what happens with it.

            If they want to work for a public school and research and write a book - they can:

            A) write it at the office at the school and let the school decide what to do with it
            B) write it at home not at work and then do what ever they want with it.

            There is ZERO reason why a Prof should have the expectation that they can be Paid to work for a school and on that school's money/time work and produce a book in which the Prof can sell for self gain.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Hognoxious (631665)

              If i write code at work - it belongs to the company i work for - and is up to them what happens with it.

              If i write code at home - it belongs to me - and I decied what happens with it.

              Don't think that's universally true. I'd check the small print on your employment contract if I were you.

        • by cetialphav (246516) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:11PM (#29610257)

          The professors that write these books will simply reject the U.S. funds

          What kind of a world do you live in where professors reject money? That just doesn't happen. Being a researcher means being on a constant quest for funding much like being a politician means always seeking campaign contributions. Professors make very little money from publishing a textbook. They do it for the prestige of being the person who literally "wrote the book on the subject." There is no financial reason for a professor to turn down funding because the text will have to be freely available. All academics want their work to be easily available and widely referenced. It is the publishers that want to tie up the content.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mcrbids (148650)

          If this bill passes, it won't change anything. The professors that write these books will simply reject the U.S. funds and get money from other places like IBM, Microsoft, Ford, and so on. Professors want to be reimbursed for their many hours of work, not give books away for free (or cheap).

          It won't change anything suddenly. We won't suddenly end up with a raft of freely licensed textbooks. But the switch has already begun. Arnold Swarzenegger (sp?) called for open-licensed digital text books like a year ag

        • by dkleinsc (563838) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:30PM (#29611267) Homepage

          The professors that write these books will simply reject the U.S. funds and get money from other places like IBM, Microsoft, Ford, and so on.

          A couple more reasons why this won't happen:
          1. Most professors aren't after cash for their personal bank account. They may be after cash for their research and teaching projects. That's because in academia the primary currency isn't the Almighty Buck but the Almighty Published Research. Among other things, they're usually smart enough that they could make a lot more money working on Wall St, Madison Ave, or a top-notch law firm if they'd been motivated primarily by personal income. A professor motivated by prestige rather than cash would be happy to see their work spread as far and wide as possible to as many people as possible as cheaply as possible.

          2. Many professors who are listed as authors of textbooks don't write the books, and almost never create the new editions. The books are typically written by ghostwriters at the textbook publishing house, and the professor acts as a subject-matter consultant.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by apoc.famine (621563)

            Very good rebuttal. An addendum:

            As researchers, we learn from others. We have others critique our works. There are TONS of college researchers who HATE that their research and educational material get locked away in pay-per-article journals or pay-through-the-nose textbooks. They also hate that they can't easily access other people's research and educational materials.

            As it is now, Universities generally set up some sort of portal through which students can access all the publishers they're

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by aztracker1 (702135)

              PDF via download? Most students today seem to have laptops, and ebook readers. Not to mention there are a fair number of printers that allow for "self publishing"

        • Evidence? (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jbn-o (555068)

          If this bill passes, it won't change anything.

          Then there's no reason not to support the bill. But more along the lines of your undefended assertion: What's your evidence? I need to see what figures you use to arrive at the conclusion quoted above.

          As a matter of principle, I don't see why I should care if people seek other funding sources. As a matter of fact, I find it hard to believe that there will be no takers for public money conditioned on releasing in a manner in line with public use. After all, i

      • by ZombieRoboNinja (905329) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @03:48PM (#29609991)

        >they can produce and sell goods on their own with no such assistance like almost every other company

        Except for agribusiness, defense contractors, oil companies, manufacturing, and every other industry sector that receives government subsidies or tax breaks (i.e. an awful lot of them).

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by huckda (398277)

      this should include ALL HARDWARE/SOFTWARE IP as well!!

    • by Sir_Dill (218371) <slashdot@zachul[ ]om ['a.c' in gap]> on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:43PM (#29609147) Homepage
      Another way to think about it is this.

      I have already paid for it to be produced because my tax dollars funded the work.

      Since digital replication is essentially free, there are no ongoing production costs for a digital edition beyond the initial work and annual updates (which one would assume are covered by additional public funding)

      Sure you can argue that bandwidth costs money, and disk space costs money, but the reality is that the cost per unit is so low, it would cost more in transaction fees than the actual cost resulting in a net loss on the transaction.

      I am more than happy to cover the printing costs on a hard copy provided they are the actual printing costs and not some inflated figure that the publisher wants to charge

      Say what you want about e-readers, eventually they will supplant books in mainstream society. I am not saying that it's going to happen in this or the next generation but perhaps in three generations we may see people who will prefer an electronic book to the "real thing".

      Just like there are folks who like to dress up in victorian era clothing, there will always be people who prefer "real books" to an e-book.

      Bottom line, we are with ebooks very close to where we were with MP3's a decade ago.

      They (MP3's) did not really gain popularity until the devices to play them became readily available and affordable.

      Until we can make the jump to digital textbooks, regardless of where the money comes from, I don't think changing the licensing is going to make enough of the difference to shift the paradigm to more affordable/available textbooks.

      Besides, it doesn't matter if you read the material or did the coursework. If you don't pay for the privilege of going to school, you don't get a degree and it doesn't change the statistics one bit.

    • by TheSpoom (715771) * <slashdot@@@uberm00...net> on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:54PM (#29609301) Homepage Journal

      Of course we can all thank our corrupt congress critters for that.

      Which is why there is precisely zero chance that this bill will pass.

      This is the best type of bill: one that's put forward because someone sees that something being done now could be done in a better way. But publishers have lobbyists and cash, and those always trump the public interest in the US House of Representatives.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by PCM2 (4486)

        This is the best type of bill: one that's put forward because someone sees that something being done now could be done in a better way. But publishers have lobbyists and cash, and those always trump the public interest in the US House of Representatives.

        Not to mention the fact that the people who put the bill forward still get to say "we tried," even if they never expected it to pass in the first place. But maybe I'm cynical.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Taxman415a (863020)
      Not only fair, but desperately needed. Not many people know that the NSF funded the creation of 9 math curricula (5 high school and 4 middle school), but part of the idiot requirements of the funding was that they had to be given over to a publisher to publish them. The project could not retain the works and release them for free. I see this ridiculous requirement as essentially stealing high quality math textbooks from the people that paid for them and keeping them away from the students that need them the
  • Yep (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trailer Trash (60756) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:12PM (#29608701) Homepage

    Will a bill such as this endanger publishing companies in the same way Internet journalism endangers traditional journalism?"

    Yep. That's why it'll never pass - expect large amounts of money to flow into key campaign coffers to put an end to this nonsense before it gets started. At some point we need to have congressmen who aren't bought and paid for by special interests.

    By the way - for those of you who say "yeah, but this open source stuff is a special interest, too", no, it isn't. It's a *general interest*. It benefits everybody but a select few, rather than benefiting a select few at the expense of everybody else.

    • Its about time for an open-source Congress.

      Every single congressman's office should have a live audio/video feed on the web.

      We need to change the culture of Washington.

      Right now it is a secretive place where powerful people make shady deals for their own personal profit and act like they are entitled to it.

      It needs to become an open place where public servants actually SERVE the public.

      Obviously the live video feed idea can be easily circumvented, but it would go a long way toward reminding them WTF they ar

      • Re:Yep (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Darkness404 (1287218) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:30PM (#29608997)
        You mean like C-SPAN where you can watch congress debate but its so annoyingly boring that no one watches it?
        • Re:Yep (Score:5, Insightful)

          by commodore64_love (1445365) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:45PM (#29609193) Journal

          Prior to CSPAN the Congress used to actually sit on the floor. After CSPAN they started hiding behind closed doors. So really CPSAN didn't reveal government - it just drove it underground.

          What we REALLY need to do is ban all contributions except those that come from registered voters. If you're not a voter, you can't donate to a Congresscritter's campaign. That would eliminate bribes from corporations which skew our system.

          • by HogGeek (456673)

            "What we REALLY need to do is ban all contributions except those that come from registered voters. If you're not a voter, you can't donate to a Congresscritter's campaign. That would eliminate bribes from corporations which skew our system."

            Nice idea, but Corps would just give money to employees, who would then "donate" it to the Congress criitter. I suspect this already happens...

          • Re:Yep (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Jaysyn (203771) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (todhsals+nysyaj)> on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:59PM (#29609343) Homepage Journal
            That & removing corporate citizenship would go a long way to fixing about 1/2 the problems with this country.

            Slightly more on topic, I wish this bill had been passed last year, would have saved my girlfriend about $600 in books for this semester.  She couldn't even get them used because for some reason, books that have already been registered aren't usable for her classes.  Shade of Stallman's "Right to Read" I tell you!
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by megamerican (1073936)

          You mean like C-SPAN where you can watch congress debate but its so annoyingly boring that no one watches it?

          C-span is awesome if you know when to watch. Most bills and debates are exceedingly boring but there are many which were the exact opposite. I skipped work to watch the debate on the $700 billion banking take over bill. Recently I watched the hearing on HR1207, which is a bill to audit the federal reserve. It was entertaining watching some congressmen, like Alan Grayson grill these officials.

          They always have public officials on for call-ins. Recently Michael Chertoff was on and was asked amazing questions f

    • You forget that to qualify, it must be:

      1. educational material.
      2. published or produced using federal funds.

      A publisher can produce educational material without using federal funds and keep all the rights in addition to everything that doesn't fall under the educational material category.

  • Long overdue (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tomkost (944194)
    Basic K-12 and Undergrad materials and course work do not change that much. Why shouldn't there be open source materials available? If they are publicly funded in any way, it should have been a requirement long ago. I for one used to refuse to sell my books back to the store for pennies on the dollar. It was always better to keep them or give to another student. With open source, more people could afford to go to university.
  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:13PM (#29608727) Homepage Journal

    Will a bill such as this endanger publishing companies in the same way Internet journalism endangers traditional journalism?

    If you accept public money, you have to accept public obligations. I'd have no sympathy for a publisher that received federal funding but disliked the conditions put on it.

    • by jbezorg (1263978)

      ...but disliked the conditions put on it.

      Don't accept the public funds and obligation then?

      No is saying all educational material has to be publicly funded. No one is saying the owners of privately funded educational material can't do what the want with it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Just Some Guy (3352)

        Exactly! GM accepted bailout money and became Government Motors. Ford didn't like the conditions and didn't accept the money. That funding might look attractive, but don't take the gift if you dislike the strings attached to it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by cetialphav (246516)

          Accepting a gift from the government is like accepting a gift from the mafia. You might think you know what the conditions of that money/bailout/protection is but those parties can arbitrarily decide to change the deal. The government did that with much of the banking bailout money for the banks. They convinced many healthy banks to take the money so as not to draw too much attention to the unhealthy ones. Then they came back and started talking about regulating executive compensation packages. The hea

  • Will a bill such as this endanger publishing companies in the same way Internet journalism endangers traditional journalism?

    Don't think so since the scope of what is covered, educational materials published or produced using federal funds, is fairly narrow.

  • Will a bill such as this endanger publishing companies in the same way Internet journalism endangers traditional journalism?"

    I certainly hope so! The kid just started college and the whole textbook scam came back to me when we priced books!!!

    • by l2718 (514756)
      Well, faculty acquiesce in the scam too. We:
      1. Require specific textbooks for our courses.
      2. Assign reading based on a specific book rather than based on the material to be learned.
      3. Assign problems by reference to the book so the student can't know what the homework problems are without a copy of the book.

      I consciously try to avoid these problems in my courses, but that is far from typical, and not always possible. Assigning problems directly out of textbooks is the the main facilitator for "edition creep"

      • by dkleinsc (563838)

        A good response that a lot of colleges are doing is placing course textbooks in the college library on reserve (which means they can't be checked out but can be read and photocopied in the library for an hour or so). Just that makes it at least possible for students to manage without buying the textbooks.

        But it is a complete scam, no question. Among other things, most textbooks are not written by their purported authors.

      • You require specific textbooks, there isn't a problem there. Could you imagine teaching a course by saying "Everyone bring in some kind of physics textbook"?
        The problem is the fucking publishers stop publishing the old editions.
  • Not worried... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:15PM (#29608759) Homepage

    Will a bill such as this endanger publishing companies in the same way Internet journalism endangers traditional journalism?

    And if it does, then what?

    It's not the government's job to protect particular business models or industries from technological innovation. It's also not particularly the government's job, in my opinion, to go out of its way to give money to private companies without a compelling public interest. Even before open source licenses were commonplace, I would have argued that any intellectual property generated with public funds should automatically be put into the public domain. Making it open source is a possible alternative, but if materials are generated with my tax dollars, I shouldn't generally have to pay again to use them.

    • I didn't care for the original question. Why not ask:

      How much does the recently expanded practice of locking up textbooks endanger public education, and the nation's ability to innovate?

      The original question slants things so many ways. One slant is the presumption that locking up textbooks is the status quo. Seems one way these lobbyists get changes made is argue that a change really isn't a change but a return to an earlier state of affairs, or a shoring up of existing intent. The knee jerk reactio

      • Well also these sorts of questions always seem to be framed in the idea that something that will hurt a particular industry will "harm the economy", in that it will be an industry not profiting and therefore not paying taxes and not generating jobs. However, this ignores that all the money previously spent on textbooks will now be freed up to be spent on other things.

        So if we had open source textbooks (assuming the quality didn't suffer), we'd not have those textbooks essentially for free, plus extra mone

    • Re:Not worried... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by NoYob (1630681) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:57PM (#29609325)

      It's not the government's job to protect particular business models or industries from technological innovation.

      I'm in the:

      • Steel
      • Automotive
      • Banking
      • Farming
      • Airline
      • Fishing
      • Teaching
      • Semiconductor
      • Defense

      industries you insensitive clod!

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:17PM (#29608777) Homepage
    At a philosophical level, this is a really good idea. There's no good reason that taxpayer money should go to things which aren't available to taxpayers. This is the same logic as making publicly funded research need to appear openly. However I'm puzzled a bit by the summary:

    The reasoning behind it takes into account the changing way information is distributed because of the Internet, the high price of college and textbooks, and the dangerously low college graduation rates in the US

    The fraction of the population that has gone to college had been steadily increasing over the last 50 years. One major result of that is that what constitutes a college education has in many ways been reduced. There are good and bad arguments about what has happened with college education over the last few years but there's no plausible way to describe the college graduation rate as dangerously low unless one thinks that a priori everyone should graduate college like everyone should graduate high school. That's not an easy case to make.

    • by thisnamestoolong (1584383) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:39PM (#29609103)

      There are good and bad arguments about what has happened with college education over the last few years but there's no plausible way to describe the college graduation rate as dangerously low unless one thinks that a priori everyone should graduate college like everyone should graduate high school. That's not an easy case to make.

      This is not even to mention the fact that the only reason a college degree ever meant anything in the first place is the not everyone was capable of getting one. This is because college was hard, and you had to be of above average intelligence to be able to graduate. To make college so that everyone can graduate, you need to dumb down the material significantly, so the truly gifted get screwed twice -- 1) Their degree means nothing because everyone else had one and 2) they got a lousy education because the professors had to simplify everything so that the dumbasses could pass.

      • Re:capable (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TaoPhoenix (980487)

        I'll borrow the top half of your line.

        College is hard because not everyone can master the material. What's terrible is the "low$" degrees help subsidize everything else. A lecture class = 2 books, 42 lectures, and "the right to pick the prof's brain for 42 questions per semester". (Much more than that gets you frowned at!) Then this is proven by an evaluation of four papers and three exams. So Hitchiker aside, a college class should cost $250 tops. The entire degree would come in at $8000 + $2000 misc = $10

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cetialphav (246516)

        I think there are several reasons why fewer people attended college in the past than they do today. One reason is that they didn't have to. It used to be that you could come out of high school and get a good job in a factory (e.g. Detroit) or oil fields (Texas and Louisiana) or any number of fields where muscles are a primary resource. Those jobs have greatly diminished so the job market demands a degree to be competitive.

        Another reason is that it is more affordable. While college costs have risen, ther

  • We should offer textbook writers a trade-off:
    • If the public pays for the writing of the textbook, the textbook should be released under a free license. This doesn't preclude the author selling copies.
    • If the author pays for the writing of the textbook, the author should get a monopoly on the printing of the textbook to recoup his investment.

    Either is fine by me. If the public opts for the discount by paying up-front, they shouldn't be forced to also pay via the instalment plan.

  • Killing publishers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FuegoFuerte (247200) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:17PM (#29608793)

    Will a bill such as this endanger publishing companies in the same way Internet journalism endangers traditional journalism?

    We can only hope it will kill the publishers, the way they've been killing US college kids for years. Do you think college kids would eat such a steady diet of ramen noodles if they weren't spending all their money on textbooks? Have you ever compared the cost of textbooks in the US to the SAME books overseas? Take a look at amazon.co.uk sometime and compare a textbook there to the same book in the US. The only difference is likely that one says "international version" on the cover. Oh, and it'll be less than half the price.

    No, a bill such as this won't endanger publishing companies... publishing companies have endangered themselves by pissing off their customers with insanely high pricing. Maybe something like this would finally bring competition to the textbook industry and help make school a little more affordable.

    • by TheKidWho (705796)

      The other problem is these companies just LOVE to release new editions of textbooks with slightly modified question numbers.

      Fortunately some of my college professors would simply photocopy the questions for us realizing this insanity.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Adaeniel (1315637)

      Take a look at amazon.co.uk sometime and compare a textbook there to the same book in the US. The only difference is likely that one says "international version" on the cover. Oh, and it'll be less than half the price.

      So, I took your advice and just did a few comparisons:

      March's Advanced Organic Chemistry: Reactions, Mechanisms, and Structure. $79.31 and £73.10
      Modern Physical Organic Chemistry: $114.00 and £66.49
      Classics in Total Synthesis: $90.18 and £61.75

      In my case, two of the books are more expensive in the United Kingdom and one is less expensive. I know this might not hold true in all cases, but I don't think the main problem is price gauging. What was always a pain

    • Have you ever compared the cost of textbooks in the US to the SAME books overseas? Take a look at amazon.co.uk sometime and compare a textbook there to the same book in the US. The only difference is likely that one says "international version" on the cover. Oh, and it'll be less than half the price.

      And it'll be a paperback that'll fall apart before the end of the semester. You're better off buying used at 75% MSRP & selling back for 50% of the MSRP* than buying international for 50% MSRP and selling back for $0.

      *If your lazy teachers bothered to tell the bookstore that they'd be using the book again next semester. Less if they didn't, of course.

  • by edrobinson (976396) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:18PM (#29608815)
    Seems to me that anything - books, medical procedures and devices, pharmaceuticals, etc. - belong to the public and we should not have to pay for them...
    • by ZekoMal (1404259)
      The troll is strong in you.

      Yes, if publicly funded books have open source requirements, it'll be the same as Communism. Or Socialism. Or whatever it is Fox News tells you to be scared of.

    • by l2718 (514756) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:37PM (#29609069)

      Seems to me that anything - books, medical procedures and devices, pharmaceuticals, etc. - belong to the public and we should not have to pay for them...

      Whoa -- not so fast. The government usually pays for fundamental research, and when it does the public should be able to freely use the fruits of the research. This means the right to read the research papers, see the data, and use any resulting inventions (i.e. practice resulting patents). However, getting from the fundamental research to the actual product usually requires more investment that is not government-funded -- and unless we make it possible for the people who put up the capital for this stage to profit they will not invest.

      For a hypothetical, assume that NIH-funded doctors discover that a particular plant extract improves survival rates from heart disease. They should have to make their research article freely available to the public (probably after a year's delay allowing research journals to profit -- this is to fund the refereeing system). They should also have to make their data available to the public so we can check the results. Note however, that knowing that the extract is useful is not the same as having a life-saving drug. Someone has to come up with an industrial process to manufacture the drug, establish appropriate dosages and safety levels and so on. Every drug company (they are members of the public too!) should be able to now use this publicly available knowledge to try make a drug. If they succeed we should give them patent protection for a while so they can recover the investment in their part of the work. Other drug companies should be able to use the public knowledge too, as long as they invent new drugs.

  • It endangers their vital revenue of charging several hundred dollars for the same textbook that has a slightly different colored cover, then offering to buy book that book for 1/16 the price of said book before reselling the same book at 15/16 the price. While we can argue that the job of gathering lots of data is very challenging, I find it difficult to believe that the Algebra text books have changed so drastically ever year that they needed $100 on each new edition to cover research. Unless they are quit
  • I'm a little unclear what qualifies textbooks this would actually impact. I can't think of any books that would be "educational materials produced using federal funds". The textbooks I had in university didn't contain any research material that would have been federally funded--how much new stuff is in a first year physics or calculus book? For that matter, even my senior E&M textbook didn't have anything particularly new. Does the government actually provide grants specifically targeted to providin
    • I have no idea how many might be out there (hopefully, this bill will result in them being easier to find), but I know that IMLS [imls.gov] (Institute of Museum and Library Services) and NSF (National Science Foundation) gives grants for writing curriculum. There was a talk at last year's ASIS&T meeting [asis.org] about the work done so far on a series of modules that teachers could use to build curriculum for digital libraries classes [vt.edu]. (either from the Library or Comp. Sci side of things).

      It's also pretty common for educa

  • The car "endagered" the horse industry the same way the book publishing industry is endangered by the internet. And to be fair, book publishers and newspapers endangered the bards and town criers! There comes a time for older techs to be displaced by newer, more appropriate tech.

    It's sad that book makers would be relegated to the competitive manufacture and distribution of printed materials and will no longer be able to rake in enormous monopolistic profits from controlling copyrights... really sad. But

  • by TheABomb (180342) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:25PM (#29608915)
    ... wouldn't their advanced education put the few and far between college grads at the forefront of our already-too-tight job market? (I better hit "submit" before my boss catches me and I lose my minimum-wage temp job.)
  • arg (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:26PM (#29608941) Journal

    Copyright was intended to "encourage the arts" not grant special rights to publishers over works that were funded by the public. All publicly funded information should be in the public domain. If publishers don't like it then boo hoo. The only reason they even get copyright rights in the first place is that we, the public, gave them those rights and we are very well within our power to take them away for works that we funded.

  • Great idea, but... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PvtVoid (1252388) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:27PM (#29608949)
    This is a laudable notion, but it has a huge loophole: how do we determine that the time an author spent working on a book was funded by the government? Consider a university scientist on an NSF grant. Such a scientist is typically paid salary off the grant for two months per year, with nine months paid in university salary, and one month not at all. The scientist files grant progress reports every year indicating what she did with the grant money, aside from surfing porn [slashdot.org]. If she doesn't want to open-source a book, she simply doesn't claim it as a grant-related activity, and instead publishes it for-profit and keeps the royalties.

    I suspect that this will only result in academic books being open-sourced which were already published at a loss, for example by university presses. Anything likely to make a substantial profit will still be closed source.
    • by Obfuscant (592200)
      how do we determine that the time an author spent working on a book was funded by the government?

      By looking at the grant purpose.

      I don't know of any NSF grants that go towards writing textbooks. Or ONR. If it isn't part of the grant, the grant isn't paying for it.

      This is an important concern for post-docs. Post-docs are paid for, in most cases, by grants. Grants don't pay for writing grants. Thus, legally, post-docs cannot write grant applications because 100% of their time is paid to do research.

      That'

      • by PvtVoid (1252388)

        I don't know of any NSF grants that go towards writing textbooks. Or ONR. If it isn't part of the grant, the grant isn't paying for it.

        I don't know about ONR, but many NSF grants specifically include outreach activities, which might well mean a textbook or a popular science book. And even if the grant criteria do not specifically include such activities, NSF grants are reviewed on twin criteria of (1) intellectual merit, and (2) broader impact. Books could easily be grant-related under the broader impact

        • by Obfuscant (592200)
          I think our hypothetical scientist is suffering from a serious case of gender confusion.

          I think that english covers the case of "subject gender unspecified" well enough without trying to pretend that there is some "gender confusion" involved. The only gender confusion I can see is on the part of the /. author.

          Can we perhaps agree that s/he is a tranny?

          I don't know what a 's/he' is. I know what 'he' means, I know what 'she' means. Referring to this unspecified professor as "she" is saying something that

          • by PvtVoid (1252388)

            I don't know what a 's/he' is. I know what 'he' means, I know what 'she' means. Referring to this unspecified professor as "she" is saying something that isn't true.

            +1 Excellent sense of humor.

  • Will a bill such as this endanger publishing companies in the same way Internet journalism endangers traditional journalism?

    If the book was authored using federal funding, then publishers should not expect any level of protection; it isn't their work (or rather their "work-for-hire") to begin with. Any copyright protection to the publisher in this case should be based on that entity purchasing the rights from the funding agency (ideally at a valuation based on estimated future sales). If they have been

  • > Will a bill such as this endanger publishing companies...

    Sure. So what?

    > ...in the same way Internet journalism endangers traditional journalism?

    This implies that you equate "traditional journalism" with newspaper publishing. Journalism and publishing are two different things. Journalism is about news and opinion. It is vibrantly alive on the Net. Publishing is about manufacturing and distributing pieces of paper with ink on them. It is obsolete.

  • Pattern here. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheWizardTim (599546) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:33PM (#29609031) Journal

    I noticed a pattern here with Congress.

    Step One. Propose a law that would hurt an industry.
    Step Two. Receive large campaign donations to stop that law.
    Step Three. ???
    Step Four. Re-election!

    • You know, that actually makes a lot of sense. I'm surprised I haven't heard more people bring that up before. I'd give you another mod point if I hadn't already posted.

    • by TheSpoom (715771) *

      Funny, if I were elected to office I'd bypass steps two and three. I guess that's why I'm not a politician.

    • by sorak (246725)

      I noticed a pattern here with Congress.

      Step One. Propose a law that would hurt an industry.
      Step Two. Receive large campaign donations to stop that law.
      Step Three. ???
      Step Four. Re-election!

      I never thought of it that way. So they are extorting big business while simultaneously cock-teasing the little guy...That's depressing.

  • by guruevi (827432)

    Will a bill such as this endanger publishing companies in the same way Internet journalism endangers traditional journalism?"

    No. The Internet has not done away with paper mills, printers, journalism, Hollywood, Broadway, telephone, schools, office buildings, dedicated computer clusters, data centers etc. etc.

    There is a use and reason for the Internet, there is also a use and reason for all the 'traditional' stuff. You can do a lot of 'traditional' stuff on the Internet, doesn't mean you should and doesn't m

  • Creative Commons (home of Creative Commons License) has a web portal http://learn.creativecommons.org/ [creativecommons.org] dedicated to "Open Source" textbooks, learning, etc.

  • by whistlingtony (691548) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:38PM (#29609091)

    Hey all,

    Just remember, saying you're all for it on an internet forum doesn't actually do anything... Write your elected officials in support of S.1714, the "Open College Textbook Act of 2009". Here are some links, just in case you're THAT lazy....

    http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml [usa.gov]
    https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml [house.gov]
    http://takeaction.lwv.org/lwv/dbq/officials/ [lwv.org]

    Remember to get the senate AND the house.

    -T

  • politics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shentino (1139071) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @02:51PM (#29609253)

    Who wants to bet that the publisher's lobby is going to have this bill killed?

This is a good time to punt work.

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