Dispatches from the Open Content Revolution

Here is further evidence suggesting that the “open content” revolution is gaining momentum.

First, the British Broadcasting Corporation has announced that it will make thousands of audio and video clips of nature programming available for viewing, sharing and editing for free, so long as their use is noncommercial.

The basic idea – rejected by Hollywood – is that free sampling via the Internet will not encourage piracy, but rather help the BBC build a new market for the commercial licensing of its video. The clips will be licensed under a Creative Commons license. One catch: the BBC archive will only be available to British citizens who already pay a yearly licensing fee that supports the BBC. Read the BBC press release or an account by Wired News.

Here’s a second remarkable dispatch from the open-content revolution. Matt Basham, a tech instructor, became frustrated at seeing his students pay exorbitant costs for a software textbook published by Cisco. So Basham wrote his own two-volume, 800-page tech manual and published it via www.lulu.com, a Web publisher that allows free downloads of books and low-cost print-on-demand copies.

Basham estimates that 20,000 people will either download his book for free or buy it for $20; Basham will make a $5 royalty for each book and lulu.com will keep the rest. The training book also replaces about $180 worth of lab and engineering journals that supplement the official Cisco textbook.

If expensive middlemen can be bypassed, who knows how much consumers will save on the efficiencies? Lulu.com poses an intriguing new challenge to conventional publishers. (See the story on this by Adrienne P. Samuels, St. Petersburg Times, June 21, 2004.)