Book publisher adopts open-source idea

Prentice Hall, a technical and academic book publisher, embraces the open-source philosophy for a new series of books, the content of which may be freely distributed.

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Prentice Hall, a technical and academic book publisher, has embraced the open-source philosophy for a new series of books, the content of which may be freely distributed.

Six books will be released this year with the Bruce Perens Open Source Series moniker, said Mark Taub, an editor-in-chief within Prentice Hall. The material of the books may be copied and updated under the strictures of the Open Publication License, and Prentice Hall will release electronic versions on the Web.

"We sell a lot of books into the open-source community, so it's natural for us to want to contribute to the open-source community," Taub said. And for business reasons, "It's good to curry favor with the open-source community. We think giving access to electronic books will potentially spur sales of printed editions."

While the six books this year represent only a fraction of the 300 total titles that Prentice Hall expects to publish, the move still stands in stark contrast to the efforts of some media companies that are pushing, not without success, for as much control as possible over their content.

Prentice Hall isn't alone, though. A competitor, O'Reilly and Associates, has released several books under the Open Publication License or the related Gnu's Not Unix (GNU) Free Documentation License.

In a related move, intellectual property attorney Lawrence Lessig and others are promoting an organization called the Creative Commons, whose Founders' Copyright authors can use to limit their copyright to 14 years.

Prentice Hall's first three books are about the use of the now-discontinued eCos operating system from Red Hat; the Snort intrusion-detection software; and programming on Linux systems.

"If they meet our expectations, we'll grow the series to nine or as many as 12 next year, and more the following year," Taub said.

The series bears the name of Perens, the primary author of the Open Source Definition and an outspoken advocate of the collaborative programming movement.

As with open-source software, the Open Publication License lets anyone freely see, modify and redistribute the content, Perens said. But there are constraints: Changes or additions must be marked as such, and anyone who releases a modified version must describe where to find the original work.

Under the Open Publication License, the author retains copyright to the work unless he or she assigns it elsewhere.

The Perens series originally was also going to bear the Hewlett-Packard imprint, but Perens left the company last year, and the book deal accompanied him, he said in an interview.

"It was very nice of them," Perens said, even though his contract with Prentice Hall ensured the outcome in any case.

There are options in the Open Publication License that can be invoked to prohibit redistribution, but Prentice Hall isn't using either of those options, Perens said.