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In 1971, Michael Hart was given $100,000,000 worth of computer time on a mainframe of the era. Trying to figure out how to put these very expensive hours to good use, he envisaged a time when there would be millions of connected computers, and typed in the Declaration of Independence (all in upper case–there was no lower case available!). His idea was that everybody who had access to a computer could have a copy of the text. Now, decades later, his copy of the Declaration of Independence (with lower-case added!) is still available to anyone, anywhere.
During the 1970s, Michael added some more classic American texts, and through the 80s worked on the Bible and the collected works of Shakespeare. That edition of Shakespeare was never released, due to copyright law changes, but others followed.
Starting in 1991, Project Gutenberg began to take its current form, with many different texts and defined production targets for new eBooks. The target for 1991 was one book a month. 1992’s target was two books a month. This target doubled every year through 1996, when it hit 32 books a month.
There is more history and background in the Background, History and Philosophy section.
Project Gutenberg is the original, and oldest, eBook project on the Internet, founded in 1971. It is one of the oldest online content providers in the world that is still operating.
The Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization, which operates Project Gutenberg. Dr. Gregory B. Newby is our volunteer CEO. Professor Michael Hart was our Founder and Executive Director. Michael died in 2011, and you can read obituary and memorial information here.
In terms of the day-to-day production of eBooks, our volunteers run themselves.?:-) They produce books, and submit them when completed. The Posting Team, known as “whitewashers” after Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, checks submitted eBooks and shepherds them online.
Over the years, we estimate that over 10,000 people have helped Project Gutenberg, either by submitting new eBooks, or having some other role in support of Project Gutenberg.
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These are all entirely separate organizations. In many cases, Michael Hart gave permission for them to use the “Project Gutenberg” name, which is a registered trademark.
These site operate within the copyright rules of their respective countries, and may have specific focus on particular types of national works or languages.
In the past, Project Gutenberg also published other cultural works like movies and music, but the bulk of our collection is books, and there are other online projects that do a better job with other types of content.
For more details, see the collection development policy.
Any books that meet our collection development policy, and that our volunteers want to work on.
We do not publish any books that still have copyright protection. This generally means that our texts are taken from books published 95+ years ago. (It’s more complicated than that, as our Copyright FAQ explains, but 95+ criterion is a good first rule-of-thumb.)
This means that you won’t find the latest bestsellers or modern computer books here. You will find the classic books from the start of the 20th century and previous centuries, from authors like Shakespeare, Poe, Dante, as well as well-loved favorites like the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Tarzan and Mars books of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Alice’s adventures in Wonderland as told by Lewis Carroll, and thousands of others.
These books are chosen by our volunteers. Simply, a volunteer decides that a certain book should be in the library, obtains the book and does the work necessary to turn it into an eBook. Most of our new eBooks now come from Distributed Proofreaders. Historically, we had many “solo” eBook producers, but this is less frequently seen these days.
Two websites have a description of the copyright process, and the various checks and requirements for uploading a new eBook that has been given a copyright clearance. For copyright, see copy.pglaf.org. For uploads and compliance checks, see upload.pglaf.org.
We have published some music files, in MIDI and MUS formats. We have published the Human Genome. We have published pictures of the prehistoric cave painting from the south of France. We have published some video files and some audio files, including a Janis Ian track and readings from public domain books.
Now, however, we only publish literary works that were previously published. The collection development policy has details.
Project Gutenberg, as such, does not choose books to publish. There is no central list of works that volunteers are asked to work on. Individual volunteers choose and produce eBooks from printed books according to their own tastes and values, and the availability of a suitable printed book for digitization.
Whatever languages we can! As above, this is decided by what languages our volunteers choose to work with.
If a book meets our collection development policy, and it isn’t in the library, it’s because no volunteer has produced it yet. At the moment, we have a predominance of English language novels because that is what most people have chosen to work on.
We’re always looking for new languages and topics, and always delighted to see people producing them. If we don’t have enough of the types of books you would like to see, why don’t you help us out by contributing one? If the people interested in a particular area don’t contribute, we’ll always be short in that area.
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Project Gutenberg supports and publishes many open formats, but, yes, we do want to have a plain text version of everything possible.
We’re looking at our history, and we’re planning for the long term–the very long term.
Today, plain text can be read, written, copied and printed by just about every simple text editor on every computer in the world. This has been so for decades, and is likely to be so for the foreseeable future. We’ve seen formats and extended character sets come and go; plain text stays with us. We can still read Shakespeare’s First Folios, the original Gutenberg Bible, the Domesday Book, and even the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Rosetta Stone (though we may have trouble with the language!), but we can’t read many files made in various formats on computer media just 20 years ago.
We’re trying to build a library that will last not only decades, but centuries.
The point of putting works in the PG library is that they are copied to many, many public sites and individual computers all over. No single disaster can destroy them; no single government can suppress them. Long after we’re all dead and gone, when the very concept of an Internet Service Provider is as quaint as gas streetlamps, when HTML reads like Middle English, those texts will still be safe, copied, and available to our descendants.
The PG library is so valuable, yet free and easily portable, that even if every current PG volunteer vanished overnight, people around the world would copy and preserve any item that is legal for them to have in their country. For people in the US, this is 100% of the collection!
Also see the File Formats FAQ for more detailed discussion of formats.