Creigpat, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Creigpat, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons


Canadian Copyright, Fair Dealing and Education, Part Five: Open Textbooks Saving Students Millions of Dollars

Fair Dealing Week for 2023 may have come to an end, but my series on Canadian copyright, fair dealing, and education continues. This week’s Law Bytes podcast features Western librarian Stephen Spong on fair dealing and prior posts in the series endeavoured to set the record straight and discussed site licensing, transactional licensing, and the disappearance of course packs. Today’s post discusses the growth of open textbooks, which has flourished in recent years. That has saved students millions of dollars, provided faculty with more flexible, adaptable materials, and eliminated the need for either additional licences or a fair dealing analysis.

I’ve often written about the importance of open access publishing. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) now lists nearly 19,000 open access journals featuring millions of articles which play an increasingly important role not only in knowledge dissemination but also as course materials. For example, the University of Guelph’s electronic course reserve data shows that shows that their open access course materials increased by 79.9% between 2018/19 and 2021/22. In 2021, Simon Fraser University was one of 14 universities across Canada to adopt an institution-wide open access policy and in 2020, Selkirk College was recognized for their “Open First!” approach that prioritized open access resources in course curriculum. 

Adjacent to open access publication of research is the growth of open educational resources and open textbooks, which has been actively encouraged and supported by governments who recognize the benefits of investing in textbooks that can be freely copied, adapted, and distributed with no further licensing costs. The model typically involves an upfront payment for the creation of the materials (often through grants) with the stipulation that the licence that accompanies the resulting works will fully permit free and open use. Copyright lobby groups rarely acknowledge the emergence of these materials, which involve significant public expenditures to create and result in a long-term cost savings for educational institutions and their students. 

For example, the Ontario Government has provided funding for post-secondary institutions to create virtual open access resources. eCampusOntario’s Virtual Learning Strategy (VLS) funding engaged Ontario’s post-secondary sector and resulted in the creation of hundreds new virtual educational resources. Other initiatives include Open Education Alberta (run by the University of Alberta), which offers 39 high-quality open educational resources through a partnership with five universities, three colleges, and four other educational institutions as well as BC Campus, which features hundreds of open textbooks. By August 2022, a total of 267,924 British Columbia students were using open textbooks. In 2020/21, 43 educational institutions across the province had replaced course materials with an open textbook – a practice known as adopting. Since 2019, there has been a 70% increase in the number of open textbook adoptions across B.C.

One of the clearest benefits are the cost savings for students. During 2020/21, around 9,000 students at the University of Saskatchewan used open textbooks instead of commercial texts, saving them about $800,000 collectively. Since the University launched its open textbook initiative in 2014, students have saved more than $2.5 million at that one university alone. Investments in the area continue as the University of British Columbia’s 2021/22 budget committed $2.5 million in future years to expand existing learning enhancements, technology tools, and open educational resources. 

Given the benefits and opportunities of open education materials and open textbooks, it is little surprise that the education sector continues to gravitate towards using these materials: students get access to free materials, professors get greater flexibility and adaptability with materials, governments can invest and reduce their long-term costs on education, compensation is provided for creators, and the model fosters incentives to create more high-quality, Canadian materials for educators across the country. 


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