This bill strikes at the heart of the key question facing our society as we move through the 21st century - will we as a species be able to transition from the self-destructive organization of society around production for exchange toward the more rational and hopefully planet saving organization around production for use based on need? It will not be easy even in this simple case to make the transition. As Mr. Matthews correctly points out,
Inevitably, the Affordable College Textbook Act will face criticism from people asking whether the government should get into the textbook industry at all and to leave the cost up to the "free market" (2013).The textbook industry will certainly use whatever lobbying power it can muster to make this argument, but as Mr. Matthews also points out, lack of student choice in which textbook to purchase make textbooks a very poor example of a "free market". Mr. Matthews also describes the process that textbook publishers have traditionally used to keep the used textbook market from providing any solution to the skyrocketing textbook costs - releasing new editions every few years to keep used textbooks from being usable.
Open textbooks can be read for free on the Internet or printed for a tiny fraction of the cost of traditional textbooks.This makes open textbooks a pretty compelling case of openly shared resources being of direct benefit to society.
By making the reproduction and distribution of open textbooks so inexpensive, the Internet opens the possibility of global access to educational resources on a scale never before imagined in human history. The only thing standing in the way of this access is the insuppressible urge on the part of the greedy to accumulate ever more at the expense of everyone else and regardless of the broader consequences. In his keynote address at Pycon 2014 in Montreal this past week, "Internet elder" John Perry Barlow summed up both the promise and the threat this way:
I felt there was something so naturally liberating about the Internet. That it was about connection; it wasn't about separation, which broadcast media obviously were. It was about a conversation, it wasn't about the channel. It wasn't about content, which is a word only recently derived when the containers went away. Note that. It's a code word for "We're a large corporation and we own all human expression and we call it content" (2014, 6:02).
ReferencesBarlow, J. P. (2014, April 12). Keynote. pyvideo.org - Keynote - John Perry Barlow. Retrieved April 17, 2014, from http://pyvideo.org/video/2587/keynote-john-perry-barlow
Bill Text 113th Congress (2013-2014)S.1704.IS. (2013, November 4). Bill Text. Retrieved April 18, 2014, from http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c113:S.1704:
Matthews, K. (2013, November 30). Will Congress Make College Textbooks Free?. Care2. Retrieved April 18, 2014, from http://www.care2.com/causes/will-congress-make-college-textbooks-free.html