Frequently Asked Questions about Project Gutenberg

About Project Gutenberg

What is Project Gutenberg?

Project Gutenberg is an online library of free electronic books, or eBooks. Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitize, archive, and distribute literary works.

The mission of Project Gutenberg is: To encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks.

Read more about Project Gutenberg in the About section.

Where did Project Gutenberg come from?

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 per month. 1992’s target was two books each 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.

Tell me about Project Gutenberg’s longevity

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.

Who runs Project Gutenberg?

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.

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What is the relationship between Project Gutenberg, Project Gutenberg of Canada, Project Gutenberg of Europe, Projekt Gutenberg-DE, Project Gutenberg of Australia, and Project Runeberg?

Those 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.

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Does Project Gutenberg publish only books?


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.

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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.

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What other things has Project Gutenberg published in the past?

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Why don’t you have any / many books about history, geography, science, biography, etc.? Why aren’t there any / more PG books available in French, Spanish, German, etc.?

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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.

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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.