Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Inside Higher Ed, Free Textbooks for Law Students:
Law school is notoriously expensive, but a growing number of professors are pushing back on the idea that law textbooks must be expensive, too. Faculty members at the New York University School of Law have taken matters into their own hands by publishing their own textbooks at no cost to students.
Barton Beebe, a law professor at NYU, published the sixth edition of his trademark-law textbook last year. Fellow NYU professors Jeanne Fromer and Christopher Jon Sprigman also published the first edition of their copyright-law textbook in 2019. Both titles are available to download electronically at no charge and are already in use at dozens of universities. Print copies of the textbooks can be ordered on demand through Amazon for the bargain-basement price of $20.26 and $15.40, respectively. The authors make no profit from these sales.
Professors authoring free textbooks isn’t a new concept. The open educational resources (OER) movement, which depends on faculty members sharing their work with the public for no personal monetary gain, was established over a decade ago. But law professors have been slow to embrace the OER movement, preferring to assign titles from well-known publishers that typically charge students in excess of $200 per book. At NYU, law students are advised to budget $1,450 for books and supplies each year on top of their $66,000 tuition.
Whether the free textbooks that Beebe, Fromer and Sprigman authored should be considered OER is a surprisingly complex question. The term “OER” is noticeably absent from the university’s promotion of the free textbooks, despite the textbook authors themselves embracing the term. Yes, the textbooks are free, but are they open?
Definitions of OER vary, but many advocates agree that OER content must be openly licensed to make clear that users can revise and remix the content however they desire. Creative Commons licenses requesting that users provide attribution to the original author, or preventing them from selling the work commercially, are common for OER materials. But licenses stating “no derivatives” are not. These licenses prohibit users from sharing content they have modified without prior permission, even if their changes improve the original material.