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Project Gutenberg was started by Michael Hart in 1971 to provide a library of free electronic versions (sometimes called e-texts) of existing books on the Internet. The texts provided are mostly in the public domain because their copyrights have expired or have never been copyrighted. There are also a few copyrighted texts that Gutenberg has made available by the authors' permission. All Project Gutenberg texts may be obtained and redistributed by readers for no fee: the only restriction placed on redistribution is that the unaltered text must contain the Project Gutenberg header. If the redistributed text has been modified, the file must not be labelled as a Gutenberg text.

Project Gutenberg concentrates on historically significant literature and reference works. The slogan of the project is "break down the bars of ignorance and illiteracy", chosen because the Project hopes to continue the work of spreading public literacy and appreciation for our literary heritage that public libraries began in the early 20th century. Most Gutenberg releases are plain ASCII text. Because maximum availability is a goal, the Project eschews prettier but bulkier and not-universally-compatible data formats such as PDF.

Today the Project has released thousands of electronic books, almost entirely produced by volunteers, and remains active. It is perhaps the oldest Internet collaboration still running. Project Gutenberg is named for 15th-century inventor Johann Gutenberg.

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