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Ben Franklin  figured out that information wants to be free, so in 1731 he invented the lending library. It was no Napster: this eighteenth-century information superhighway was meant for such serious purposes as education and fomenting revolution. Franklin wrote, "These libraries have improved the general conversation of the Americans, made the common tradesmen and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries, and perhaps have contributed in some degree to the stand so generally made throughout the colonies in defense of their privileges." Words mattered. In the golden age of ink and wood pulp, Uncle Tom's Cabin and Zola's J'Accuse letter  were data that packed a punch.
About Open Books O'Reilly has published a number of Open Books--books with various forms of "open" copyright--over the years. The reasons for "opening" copyright, as well as the specific license agreements under which they are opened, are as varied as our authors. Perhaps a book was outdated enough to be put out of print, yet some people still needed the information it covered.