Open textbooks are textbooks that are published with some form of open license. An open license is a blanket grant to use the book’s content under certain conditions. Open licenses contrast with traditional copyrights, where authors reserve all rights for themselves and those wishing to reuse the content must contact the author to gain rights. Open-licensed books are copyrighted; the license simply formalizes the permissions granted by the author.
Dr. David Wiley has enumerated a set of five permissions which together describe the “openness” of an object. These are commonly referred to as The 5R Permissions: Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix, and Redistribute. An open license grants these permissions under certain conditions.
Open-licensed textbooks are part of a larger class of learning objects called Open Educational Resources (OER.) OER can be most any sort of object used for education, including books, articles, images, recordings, etc.
There are a number of formal open licenses that can be applied to OER, including textbooks. The most widely used is the Creative Commons license, which comes in a variety of flavors which specify the various conditions for use. Other licenses are the Educational Material Universal Common License, the GNU Free Documentation License, the GNU General Public License, and the Open Public License. In addition, all Public Domain resources are implicitly open because there are no constraints place on their use. Some authors write their own open licenses, but that is becoming increasingly rare as familiarity with the formal licenses increases.
While there are now a vast number of OER, College Open Textbooks limits its coverage to open-licensed textbooks (or resources that look very much like textbooks) suitable for college courses. Our mission is to provide the most comprehensive collection of such books on the web.