Project Gutenberg is an online, digital library, that features over 36,000 free e-books. The project is named after Johannes Gutenberg, the German printer who pioneered the use of moveable type in Europe in the 15th century. This set off the printing revolution in Europe that was one of the most important events in Western Civilization, as it made books widely available to all people and helped to dramatically increase literacy.
In a world where there seems to be a charge for everything, it’s refreshing to have access to so many books at no cost. Some of you may wonder how Project Gutenberg is able to give away all of these books for free? They are able to do this because these books are out of copyright.
The basic purpose of copyright law is to protect the author of a work and secure his ability to use his creation as he sees fit for his lifetime and several generations after. In the U.S. the general rule of thumb for copyright protection is 70 years after the death of the author. An author who died in 1942 will have his works under copyright until 2012. Assuming that the copyrights were passed on to his children, they will be able to collect royalties from the sales of his books until then.
There are plenty of details and exceptions that go into copyright that can’t be covered here. One important thing to remember for researchers though is that copyright still applies when you are quoting or citing someone’s work in your research that you intend to publish. You must obtain permission to publish citations, otherwise you might risk legal action for an unauthorized use of someone’s intellectual property.
Since project Gutenberg books are out of copyright, all of them have been published in prior to 1941. Though this means that the latest books aren’t available through their site, they still provide an amazing resource. Think of it this way, most of the world’s knowledge was published more than seventy years ago, besides, you can find the rest at your library. 😉
Check out the “Top 100” at Project Gutenberg to see how many amazing classics are there for you.