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Title: Project Gutenberg (1971-2005)
Author: Lebert, Marie
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Project Gutenberg (1971-2005)" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.


NEF, University of Toronto, 2005

Copyright © 2005 Marie Lebert

Dated August 15, 2005, this long article (following a short version published in
June 2004 [and copied at the end of this file]) is a paper for the third
International Colloquium on ICT-enhanced French Studies: Dialogues across
languages and cultures, October 2005, York University, Toronto, Canada. This
volunteers on the five continents, who offer us a free library of 16,000
high-quality eBooks, mainly classics of world literature, with a goal of one
million eBooks in ten years.

With many thanks to Russon Wooldridge, who kindly edited this long article. The
original version is available on the NEF, University of Toronto:


1. Summary

2. History, From the Origins to Today

3. The Public Domain, an Endless Topic

6. eBooks in More and More Languages

7. From the Past to the Future

8. Chronology [updated in 2006]

9. Links

10. Short Version [dated 2004]


done a better job of putting the world's literature at everyone's disposal. And
to create a vast network of volunteers all over the world, without wasting
people's skills or energy.

Here is the story in a few lines.

available for free, and electronically, literary works belonging to the public
domain. A project that has long been considered by its critics as impossible on
first information provider on the internet and is the oldest digital library.
Michael himself keyed in the first hundred books.

When the internet became popular, in the mid-1990s, the project got a boost and
an international dimension. Michael still typed and scanned in books, but now
coordinated the work of dozens and then hundreds of volunteers in many
countries. The number of electronic books rose from 1,000 (in August 1997) to
2,000 (in May 1999), 3,000 (in December 2000) and 4,000 (in October 2001).

5,000 books online in April 2002, 10,000 books online in October 2003, and
15,000 books online in January 2005, with 400 new books available per month, 40
mirror sites in a number of countries, and books downloaded by the tens of
thousands every day.

Whether they were digitized 20 years ago or they are digitized now, all the
books are captured in Plain Vanilla ASCII (the original 7-bit ASCII), with the
same formatting rules, so they can be read easily by any machine, operating
system or software, including on a PDA or an eBook reader. Any individual or
organization is free to convert them to different formats, without any
restriction except respect for copyright laws in the country involved.

In January 2004, Project Gutenberg had spread across the Atlantic with the
creation of Project Gutenberg Europe. On top of its original mission, it also
became a bridge between languages and cultures, with a goal of one million
eBooks in 2015, and a number of national and linguistic sections. While adhering
to the same principle: books for all and for free, through electronic versions
that can be used and reproduced indefinitely. And, as a second step, the
digitization of images and sound, in the same spirit.


= The Beginnings in 1971

Let us get back to the beginnings of the project. When he was a student at the
University of Illinois (USA), Michael Hart was given $100,000,000 of computer
time at the Materials Research Lab of his university. On July 4, 1971, on
Independence Day, Michael keyed in The United States Declaration of Independence
(signed on July 4, 1776) to the mainframe he was using. In upper case, because
there was no lower case yet. But to send a 5 K file to the 100 users of the
embryonic internet would have crashed the network. So Michael mentioned where
the eText was stored (though without a hypertext link, because the web was still
20 years ahead). It was downloaded by six users. Project Gutenberg was born.

Michael decided to use this huge amount of computer time to search the public
domain books that were stored in our libraries, and to digitize these books. He
also decided to store the electronic texts (eTexts) in the simplest way, using
the plain text format called Plain Vanilla ASCII, so they can be read easily by
any machine, operating system or software. A book would become a continuous text
file instead of a set of pages, with caps for the terms in italic, bold or
underlined of the print version.

Soon afterwards he defined Project Gutenberg's mission: to put at everyone's
disposal, in electronic versions, as many literary works of the public domain as
possible for free. As he stated years later, in August 1998, "We consider eText
to be a new medium, with no real relationship to paper, other than presenting
the same material, but I don't see how paper can possibly compete once people
each find their own comfortable way to eTexts, especially in schools."

= Persevering from 1972 to 1989

After he keyed in The United States Declaration of Independence in 1971, Michael
went on in 1972 and typed in a longer text, The United States Bill of Rights,
that includes the ten first amendments added in 1789 to the Constitution (dated
1787) and defining the individual rights of the citizens and the distinct powers
ot the Federal Government and the States. In 1973, Michael typed in the full
text of The United States Constitution.

From one year to the next, disk space was getting larger, by the standards of
the time (there was no hard disk yet), so it was possible to plan bigger files.
Michael began typing in the Bible, because the individual books of the Bible
could be processed separately as different files. He also worked on the
collected works of Shakespeare, with one play at a time, and a file for each
play. That edition of Shakespeare was never released, due to copyright changes.
If Shakespeare's works belong to the public domain, the comments and notes may
be copyrighted, depending on the publication date. But other editions belonging
to the public domain were posted a few years later.

In parallel, the internet, which was still embryonic in 1971, was born in 1974
with the launching of TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol / Internet
Protocol). Its rapid expansion started in 1983.

In August 1989, Project Gutenberg celebrated the completion of its 10th eText,
The King James Bible.

= 10 to 1,000 eBooks from 1990 to 1996

In 1990, there were 250,000 internet users, and the standard was 360 K disks. In
January 1991, Michael keyed in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis
Carroll (published in 1865). In July 1991, he typed in Peter Pan, by James M.
Barrie (published in 1904). These two worldwide classics of childhood literature
each fitted on one disk.

1991 was also the year the web became operational. The first browser, Mosaic,
was released in November 1993. As the web was becoming a popular medium, it
became easier to circulate eTexts and recruit volunteers. Project Gutenberg
gradually got into its stride, with the digitization of one eText per month in
1991, two eTexts per month in 1992, four eTexts per month in 1993 and eight
eTexts per month in 1994. In January 1994, Project Gutenberg celebrated its
100th eText by releasing The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. The steady
growth went on, with an average of 8 eTexts per month in 1994, 16 eTexts per
month in 1995, and 32 eTexts per month in 1996.

As we can see, from 1991 to 1996, the "output" doubled every year. While
continuing to digitize books, Michael was also coordinating the work of dozens
of volunteers. At the end of 1993, Project Gutenberg's eTexts were organized
into three main sections: a) "Light Literature", such as Alice's Adventures in
Wonderland, Peter Pan or Aesop's Fables; b) "Heavy Literature", such as the
Bible, Shakespeare's works or Moby Dick; c) "Reference Literature", such as
Roget's Thesaurus, and a set of encyclopaedias and dictionaries.

Project Gutenberg's goal is to be "universal" both for the literary works that
are chosen and the audience who reads them. The goal is to put literature at
everyone's disposal. With a focus on books that many people would use
frequently, and not only students and teachers. For example, the "Light
Literature" section is intended for pre-schoolers as well as their grandparents.
The aim is that they will want to look up the eText of Peter Pan when they come
back from watching Hook at the movies. Or that they will read the eText of
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland after seeing it on TV. Or that they will look
for the context of a quotation after hearing it in one of the Star Trek
episodes; nearly every episode of Star Trek quotes from books which are in the
Project Gutenberg collections.

The idea is that, whether they were avid readers of print books or not in the
past, people should easily be able to look up quotations they hear in
conversations, movies, music, or they read in books, newspapers and magazines,
within a library containing all these quotations in an easy-to-use format.
eTexts don't take up much space in ASCII format. They can be easily downloaded
with a standard phone line. Searching a word or a phrase is simple too. People
can easily search an entire eText by using the plain "search" menu available in
any program."

= 1,000 eBooks in August 1997

In 1997, the "output" was still an average of 32 eTexts per month. In June 1997,
Project Gutenberg released The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, by Howard Pyle
(published in 1883). In August 1997, it released its 1000th eText, La Divina
Commedia di Dante (published in 1321), in Italian, its original language.

In August 1998, Michael wrote: "My own personal goal is to put 10,000 eTexts on
the Net [editor's note: his goal was reached in October 2003] and if I can get
some major support, I would like to expand that to 1,000,000 and to also expand
our potential audience for the average eText from 1.x% of the world population
to over 10%, thus changing our goal from giving away 1,000,000,000,000 eTexts to
1,000 times as many, a trillion and a quadrillion in US terminology."

= 1,000 to 5,000 eBooks from 1998 to 2002

From 1998 to 2000, there was a steadfast average of 36 new eTexts per month. In
May 1999, there were 2,000 eTexts. The 2000th eText was Don Quijote, by
Cervantes (published in 1605), in Spanish, its original language.

Around 40 eTexts per month were released during the 1st semester 2001, and 50
eTexts during the 2nd semester. Released in December 2000, the 3000th eText was
the third volume of A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (In the Shadow of
Young Girls in Flower), by Marcel Proust (published in 1919), in French, its
original language.

Released in October 2001, the 4000th eText was The French Immortals Series, in
English. Published in 1905 by Maison Mazarin, Paris, this book is an anthology
of short fictions by authors belonging to the renowned French Academy (Académie
française), notably Emile Souvestre, Pierre Loti, Hector Malot, Charles de
Bernard and Alphonse Daudet.

Available in April 2002, the 5000th eText was The Notebooks of Leonardo da
Vinci, which he wrote at the beginning of the 16th century. A text that is still
in the Top 100 of downloaded texts in 2005.

In 1988, Michael Hart chose to digitize Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and
Peter Pan because they each fitted on one 360 K disk, the standard of the time.
Fifteen years later, in 2002, 1.44 M is the standard disk and ZIP is the
standard compression. The practical file size is about 3 million characters,
more than long enough for the average book. The digitized ASCII version of a
300-page novel is 1 M. A bulky book can fit in two ASCII files, that can be
downloaded as is or in ZIP format.

An average of 50 hours is necessary to get an eText selected, copyright-cleared,
scanned, proofread, formatted and assembled.

A few numbers are reserved for "special" books. For example, eText number 1984
is reserved for George Orwell's classic, published in 1949, and still a long way
from falling into the public domain.

In 2002, around 100 eTexts were released per month. In Spring 2002, Project
Gutenberg's eTexts represented 1/4 of all the public domain works freely
available on the web and listed nearly exhaustively by The Internet Public
Library (IPL). An impressive result thanks to the relentless work of 1,000
volunteers in several countries.

= 10,000 eBooks in October 2003

1,000 eTexts in August 1997, 2,000 eTexts in May 1999, 3,000 eTexts in December
2000, 4,000 eTexts in October 2001, 5,000 eTexts in April 2002, 10,000 eTexts in
October 2003. eText number 10000 is The Magna Carta, the first English
constitutional text, signed at the beginning of the 13th century.

From April 2002 to October 2003, in 18 months, the number of eTexts doubled,
going from 5,000 to 10,000, with a monthly average of 300 new digitized books.
In December 2003, most of the titles (9,400 eBooks) were also burned on a DVD to
celebrate the landmark of 10,000 eTexts, renamed as eBooks, according to the
latest terminology in the field. A few months before, in August 2003, a "Best of
Gutenberg" CD was made available containing 600 eBooks (as a follow-up to other
CDs in the past). People could request the CD and DVD for free, and were then
encouraged to make copies for a friend, a library or a school. (In 2005, CD and
DVD files are also periodically generated as ISO files. When downloaded, they
can be used to make a CD or DVD using a CD or DVD writer.)

10,000 eBooks. An impressive number if we think about all the scanned and
proofread pages this number represents. A fast growth thanks to Distributed
Proofreaders, a website designed in 2000 by Charles Franks to share the
proofreading of eBooks between many volunteers. Volunteers choose one of the
eBooks listed on the site and proofread a given page. They don't have any quota
to fulfill, but it is recommended they do a page per day if possible. It doesn't
seem much, but with hundreds of volunteers it really adds up.

In December 2003, there were 11,000 eBooks digizited in several formats, most of
them in ASCII, and some of them in HTML or XML. This represented 46,000 files,
and 110 G. On 13 February 2004, the day of Michael Hart's presentation at
UNESCO, in Paris (see below), there were exactly 11,340 eBooks in 25 languages.
In May 2004, the 12,581 eBooks represented 100,000 files in 20 different
formats, and 135 gigabytes. With 400 new eBooks added per month (and more in the
years to come), the number of gigabytes is expected to double every year.

= 15,000 eBooks in January 2005

In January 2005, Project Gutenberg had 15,000 eBooks. eBook number 15000 is The
Life of Reason, by George Santayana (published in 1906). On June 16, 2005 there
were 16,481 eBooks in 42 languages. On August 3, 2005, besides English (14,590
eBooks), the six main languages were French (578 eBooks), German (349 eBooks),
Finnish (225 eBooks), Dutch (130 eBooks), Spanish (105 eBooks) and Chinese (69

Michael hopes to reach 1,000,000 eBooks by 2015. Each email he sends includes
the current number, and the next significant goal to reach. As of July 2005, the
next goal is 20,000 eBooks. This goal should be reached in July 2006, for the
35th anniversary of Project Gutenberg.

Conceived in January 2004, at the same time as the launching of Distributed
Proofreaders Europe (DP Europe) by Project Rastko, Project Gutenberg Europe went
online in June 2005 and released the 100 first eBooks processed by DP Europe
over the past several months. These eBooks are in several languages, a
reflection of European linguistic diversity. 100 languages are planned for the
long term.

In July 2005, Project Gutenberg of Australia (launched in 2001) reached 500
eBooks, and Project Gutenberg of Canada took its first steps (see the PGCanada
List). Project Gutenberg Portugal and Project Gutenberg Philippines will be
next. (For the latest news, check the News and Events of Project Gutenberg.)


Despite the enthusiasm and the persistence of its hundreds of volunteers, the
task of Project Gutenberg isn't made any easier by the increasing restrictions
to the public domain. As stated in the FAQ, "the public domain is the set of
cultural works that are free of copyright, and belong to everyone equally." In
former times, 50% of works belonged to the public domain, and could be freely
used by everybody. Nowadays, 99% of works are governed by copyright, and some
people would like this percentage to reach 100%.

In the Copyright HowTo section, Project Gutenberg presents its own rules for
confirming the public domain status of eBooks according to US copyright laws.
Here is a summary. Works published before 1923 entered the public domain no
later than 75 years from the copyright date. (All these works are now in the
public domain.) Works published between 1923 and 1977 retain copyright for 95
years. (No such works will enter the public domain until 2019.) Works created
from 1978 on enter the public domain 70 years after the death of the author if
the author is a natural person. (Nothing will enter the public domain until
2049.) Works created from 1978 on enter the public domain 95 years after
publication (or 120 years after creation) if the author is a corporate one.
(Nothing will enter the public domain until 2074.) Other rules apply too.

Much more restrictive than the previous one, the current legislation became
effective after the promulgation of amendments to the 1976 Copyright Act, dated
October 27th, 1998. As explained by Michael Hart in July 1999: "Nothing will
expire for another 20 years. We used to have to wait 75 years. Now it is 95
years. And it was 28 years (+ a possible 28 year extension, only on request)
before that, and 14 years (+ a possible 14 year extension) before that. So, as
you can see, this is a serious degrading of the public domain, as a matter of
continuing policy."

The dates mentioned by Michael are: a) 1790, date of the stranglehold of the
Stationers' Guild (the publishers of the time) on the Gutenberg printing press
(hence the 14-year copyright); b) 1909, date of the copyright reinforcement to
counter the re-publishing of large collections of the public domain by reprint
houses using steam and electric presses (hence the 28-year copyright); c) 1976,
date of a new tightening of the copyright following the introduction of the
Xerox photocopying machine (hence the 50-year copyright after the author's
life); d) 1998, date of a further tightening of the copyright following the
development of the internet (hence the 70-year copyright after the author's
life). These are only the main lines. The Copyright Act has been amended 11
times in the last 40 years.

As stated by Tom W. Bell in Trend of Maximum U.S. General Copyright Term (with a
very useful chart): "The first federal copyright legislation, the 1790 Copyright
Act, set the maximum term at fourteen years plus a renewal term of fourteen
years. The 1831 Copyright Act doubled the initial term and retained the
conditional renewal term, allowing a total of up to forty-two years of
protection. Lawmakers doubled the renewal term in 1909, letting copyrights run
for up to fifty-six years. The interim renewal acts of 1962 through 1974 ensured
that the copyright in any work in its second term as of September 19, 1962,
would not expire before Dec. 31, 1976. The 1976 Copyright Act changed the
measure of the default copyright term to life of the author plus fifty years.
Recent amendments to the Copyright Act [the ones in 1998] expanded the term yet
again, letting it run for the life of the author plus seventy years."

The amendments of the Copyright Act, dated October 27, 1998, were a major blow
for digital libraries and deeply shocked their founders, beginning with Michael
Hart and John Mark Ockerbloom, founder of The Online Books Page. But how were
they to measure up to the major publishing companies? Michael wrote in July
1999: "No one has said more against copyright extensions than I have, but
Hollywood and the big publishers have seen to it that our Congress won't even
mention it in public. The kind of copyright debate going on is totally
impractical. It is run by and for the 'Landed Gentry of the Information Age.'
'Information Age'? For whom?"

True enough. The political authorities continually speak about an information
age while tightening the laws relating to the dissemination of information. The
contradiction is obvious. This problem has also affected Australia (forcing
Project Gutenberg of Australia to withdraw dozens of books from its collections)
and several European countries. In a number of countries, the rule is now life
of the author plus 70 years, instead of life plus 50 years, following pressure
from content owners, with the subsequent "harmonization" of national copyright
laws as a response to the "globalization of the market". (The Online Books Page
gives a summary of the various copyright regimes, with a number of useful

Now, from the volunteer point of view, the wisest thing to do is to choose a
book published before 1923. It is also required that copyright clearance be
confirmed prior to working on any eBook by sending a photocopy of the title page
and verso page (even if the latter is blank) to Michael. The pages should be
sent as scans to be uploaded on the website. For people who cannot create scans,
it is possible to send photocopies by postal mail. The pages will then be filed,
either on paper or electronically, so that the proof will be available in the
future, to demonstrate if necessary that the book is in the public domain under
the US law. Project Gutenberg doesn't release any eBook until the book's
copyright status has been confirmed.

There is nevertheless hope for some books published after 1923. According to
Greg Newby, director of PGLAF (Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation),
one million books published between 1923 and 1964 could also belong to the
public domain, because only 10% of copyrights were actually renewed. Project
Gutenberg tries to locate these books. In April 2004, with the help of hundreds
of volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders, all Copyright Renewal records were
posted for books from 1950 through 1977. So, if a given book published during
this period is not on the list, it means the copyright was not renewed, and the
book fell into the public domain.


Whether digitized years ago or now, all the books are digitized in 7-bit plain
ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange), called Plain Vanilla
ASCII. Used since the beginnings of computing, it is the set of unaccented
characters present on a standard English-language keyboard (A-Z, a-z, numbers,
punctuation and other basic symbols). When 8-bit ASCII (also called ISO-8859 or
ISO-Latin) is used for books with accented characters like French or German,
Project Gutenberg also produces a 7-bit ASCII version with the accents stripped.
(This doesn't apply for languages that are not "convertible" in ASCII, like
Chinese, encoded in Big-5.)

Plain Vanilla ASCII is the best format by far. It is "the lowest common
denominator". It can be read, written, copied and printed by any simple text
editor or word processor on every computer in the world. It is the only format
compatible with 99% of hardware and software. It can be used as it is or to
create versions in many other formats. It will still be used while other formats
will be obsolete (or are already obsolete, like formats of a few short-lived
reading devices launched between 1999 and 2003). It is the assurance collections
will never be obsolete, and will survive future technological changes. The goal
is to preserve the texts not only over decades but over centuries. There is no
other standard as widely used as ASCII right now, even Unicode, a "universal"
encoding system created in 1991.

Project Gutenberg also publishes eBooks in well-known formats like HTML, XML or
RTF. There are Unicode files too. Any other format provided by volunteers (PDF,
LIT, TeX and many others) is usually accepted, as long as they also supply an
ASCII version where possible.

But a large scale conversion into other formats is handed over to other
organizations. For example Blackmask Online, which uses Project Gutenberg's
collections to offer thousands of free eBooks in eight different formats based
on the Open eBook (OeB) format. Or Manybooks.net, which converts Project
Gutenberg's eBooks into formats readable on PDAs. Or Bookshare.org, the main
digital library for the visual impaired community in the US, which converts
books from Project Gutenberg into Braille format and DAISY (Digital Audio
Information System) format.

What is entailed exactly, once copyright clearance is received? Digitization is
done by scanning the book page after page to get "image" files. Then volunteers
run an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software to convert "image" files
into text files. Then each text file is proofread (i.e. re-read and corrected)
by comparing it to the "image" file or the original page of the print version.
There is an average of 10 mistakes per page for a good OCR package and... many
more mistakes if the quality of the scanner and the OCR package is not great.

The book is proofread twice on the computer screen by two different people, who
make any corrections necessary. When the original is in poor condition, as with
very old books, it is keyed in manually, word by word. Some volunteers
themselves prefer to type short texts, or works they particularly like. But most
books are scanned, "OCRized" and proofread.

Digitization in "text format" means a book can be copied, indexed, searched,
analyzed and compared with other books. It is possible to search the content of
the book with the "Find" button available in any browser and any software,
without a specific search engine. Project Gutenberg provides a "Nearly Full
Text" search (on the first 100 K of each file) using Google, with a database
updated approximately monthly. It also provides a search of book metadata
(author, title, brief description, keywords) as a participant in Yahoo!'s
Content Acquisition Program, with a database updated weekly. (Please see the
bottom of the Online Book Catalog.) In the Advanced Search, several fields can
be filled: author, title, subject, language, category (any, audio book, music,
pictures), LoCC (Library of Congress Catalog classification), filetype (text,
PDF, HTML, XML, JPEG, etc.), and eText/eBook No. A field "Full Text" was
recently added as an experimental feature.

The assets of digitization in "text format" are numerous. It makes a smaller and
more easily sendable computer file, unlike digitization in "image format", which
produces a bulky "photo" file. Contrary to other formats, the files are
accessible for low-bandwidth use. They can be copied as much as needed to
produce new digital or print versions for free. The typos pointed out after the
text is released can be fixed at any time. Readers can change the font and size
of characters, the margins or the number of lines per page. Visually impaired
readers can increase the letter size. Blind readers can use speech recognition
software. All this is very difficult, if not impossible, with many other

If the eBooks released are 99.9% accurate in the eyes of the general reader, the
goal is not to create authoritative editions, and to argue with a picky reader
whether a certain sentence should have a colon instead of a semi-colon between
its clauses.

Project Gutenberg is convinced that proofreading by human beings is a very
important step, and that this step makes all the difference. The use of scanned
books as is --converted to text format by OCR software with no proofreading--
gives a much lower quality result. After running OCR software, the text is 99%
reliable, in the best of cases. After proofreading, the text becomes 99.95%
reliable (a high percentage which is also the standard at the Library of

For this reason, Project Gutenberg's perspective is rather different from that
of the Million Book Project, another project launched by several professors from
Carnegie Mellon University, and whose collections (10,611 books on June 1st,
2005) are hosted by the Internet Archive (the Internet Archive is also the
backup distribution site of Project Gutenberg). In the case of the Million Book
Project, books are scanned and "OCRized", but they are not proofread. The main
formats used are XML, TIF and DjVu.

On Project Gutenberg's website, a File Recode Service allows users to convert
books in one format (ASCII, ISO-8859, Unicode and Big-5) into another, and vice
versa. A much more powerful conversion program may be launched in the future,
with a conversion into still more formats (XML, HTML, PDF, TeX, RTF), including
Braille and voice. It will then also be possible to choose the font and size of
characters and the background color. Another eagerly expected conversion is that
of a book from one language to another by machine translation software. This may
be possible in a few years, when machine translation is accurate to 99%.


The main "leap forward" of Project Gutenberg in the last few years is due to
Distributed Proofreaders.

Distributed Proofreaders was conceived in 2000 by Charles Franks to help in the
digitizing of public domain books. Originally meant to assist Project Gutenberg
in the handling of shared proofreading, Distributed Proofreaders became the main
source of Project Gutenberg eBooks. In 2002, Distributed Proofreaders became an
official Project Gutenberg site.

The number of eBooks that have been processed through Distributed Proofreaders
has grown fast, with a total of 3,000 eBooks in February 2004, 5,000 eBooks in
October 2004 and 7,000 eBooks in May 2005. On August 3, 2005, 7,639 books were
complete (processed through the site and posted to Project Gutenberg), 1,250
books were in progress (processed through the site but not yet posted, because
currently going through their final proofreading and assembly), and 831 books
were being proofread (currently being processed).

From the website one can access a program that allows several proofreaders to be
working on the same book at the same time, each proofreading on different pages.
This significantly speeds up the proofreading process. Volunteers register and
receive detailed instructions. For example, words in bold, italic or underlined,
or footnotes are always treated the same way for any eBook. A discussion forum
allows them to ask questions or seek help at any time. A project manager
oversees the progress of a particular book through its different steps on the

Each time proofreaders go to the website, they choose the book they want. One
page of the book appears in two forms side by side: the scanned image of one
page and the text from that image (as produced by OCR software). The proofreader
can easily compare both versions, note the differences and fix them. OCR is
usually 99% accurate, which makes for about 10 corrections a page. The
proofreader saves each page as it is completed and can then either stop work or
do another. The books are proofread twice, and the second time only by
experienced proofreaders. All the pages of the book are then formatted, combined
and assembled by post-processors to make an eBook. (For more detailed
information, check the FAQ Central.) The eBook is now ready to be posted with an
index entry (title, subtitle, author, eBook number and character set) for the
database. Indexers go on with the cataloguing process (author's dates of birth
and death, Library of Congress classification, etc.) after the release.

Volunteers don't have a quota to fill, but it is recommended they do a page a
day if possible. It doesn't seem much, but with hundreds of volunteers it really
adds up. In 2003, about 250-300 people were working each day all over the world,
producing a daily total of 2,500-3,000 pages, the equivalent of two pages a
minute. In 2004, the average was 300-400 proofreaders participating each day,
and finishing 4,000-7,000 pages per day, the equivalent of four pages a minute.

Volunteers can also work independently, after contacting Project Gutenberg
directly, by keying in a book they particularly like using any text editor or
word processor. They can also scan it and convert it into text using OCR
software, and then make corrections by comparing it with the original. In each
case, someone else will proofread it. They can use ASCII and any other format.
Everybody is welcome, whatever the method and whatever the format.

New volunteers are most welcome too at Distributed Proofreaders (DP-INT) and
Distributed Proofreaders Europe (DP Europe). Any volunteer anywhere is welcome,
for any language. There is a lot to do. As stated on both websites, "Remember
that there is no commitment expected on this site. Proofread as often or as
seldom as you like, and as many or as few pages as you like. We encourage people
to do 'a page a day', but it's entirely up to you! We hope you will join us in
our mission of 'preserving the literary history of the world in a freely
available form for everyone to use'."


What about languages?

Initially, the eBooks were mostly in English. As Project Gutenberg is based in
the United States, it first focused on the English-speaking community in the
country and worldwide.

In October 1997, Michael Hart expressed his intention to expand the publishing
of eBooks in other languages. At the beginning of 1998, the catalog had a few
titles in French (10 titles), German, Italian, Spanish and Latin. In July 1999,
Michael wrote: "I am publishing in one new language per month right now, and
will continue as long as possible."

In early 2004, there were works in 25 languages. In July 2005, there were works
in 42 languages, including Iroquoian, Sanskrit and the Mayan languages. The
seven "main" languages were: English (with 14,548 books on July 27, 2005),
French (577 books), German (349 books), Finnish (218 books), Dutch (130 books),
Spanish (103 books) and Chinese (69 books).

Let us take French as an example. On February 13, 2004, there were 181 eBooks in
French (out of a total of 11,340 eBooks). On May 16, 2005, there were 547 eBooks
in French (out of 15,505 Books). The number tripled in 15 months. This number
should rise significantly during the next few years, notably with Project
Gutenberg Europe (launched in June 2005).

What were the first eBooks posted in French? They were six novels by Stendhal
and two novels by Jules Verne, all released in early 1997. The six novels by
Stendhal were: L'Abbesse de Castro, Les Cenci, La Chartreuse de Parme, La
Duchesse de Palliano, Le Rouge et le Noir and Vittoria Accoramboni. The two
novels by Jules Verne were: De la terre à la lune and Le tour du monde en
quatre-vingts jours. In early 1997, whereas Project Gutenberg offered no English
version of any of Stendhal's writings (yet), three of Jules Verne's novels were
available in English: 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas (original title: Vingt mille
lieues sous les mers), posted in September 1994; Around the World in 80 Days
(original title: Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours), posted in January
1994 and From the Earth to the Moon(original title: De la terre à la lune),
posted in September 1993. Stendhal and Jules Verne were followed by Edmond
Rostand with Cyrano de Bergerac, posted in March 1998.

In late 1999, the "Top 20" --the 20 most downloaded authors-- included Jules
Verne at 11 and Emile Zola at 16. They still have a very good ranking in the
present "Top 100".

As a side remark, the first "images" ever made available by Project Gutenberg
were French Cave Paintings, posted in April 1995, with an XHTML version posted
in November 2000. This eBook contains four photos of paleolithic paintings found
in a grotto located in Ardèche, a region of south-eastern France. These photos,
which are copyrighted, were made available to Project Gutenberg thanks to Jean
Clottes, a French general curator for cultural heritage (conservateur général du
patrimoine), for everyone to enjoy them.

Multilingualism is now one of the priorities of Project Gutenberg, like
internationalization. In early 2004, Michael Hart went off to Europe, with stops
in Paris, Brussels and Belgrade. He gave a lecture on February 12, 2004 at
UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)
headquarters in Paris. He chaired a discussion at the French National Assembly
on February 13. The following week, he addressed the European Parliament, in
Brussels. He also met with the team of Project Rastko, in Belgrade, to support
the creation of Distributed Proofreaders Europe (launched in January 2004) and
Project Gutenberg Europe (conceived at the same time, and launched in June

The launching of Distributed Proofreaders Europe (DP Europe) by Project Rastko
was indeed a very important step. DP Europe uses the software of the original
Distributed Proofreaders and is dedicated to the proofreading of eBooks for
Project Gutenberg Europe. Since its very beginnings, DP Europe has been a
multilingual website, with its main pages translated into several European
languages by volunteer translators. In April 2004, DP Europe was available in 12
languages. The long-term goal is 60 languages and 60 linguistic teams
representing all the European languages. When it gets up to speed, DP Europe
will provide eBooks for several national and/or linguistic digital libraries,
for example Projet Gutenberg France for France. The goal is for every country to
have its own digital library (according to the country copyright limitations),
within a continental network (for France, the European network) and a global
network (for the whole planet).

A few lines now on Project Rastko, which had the boldness to launch such a
difficult and exciting project for Europe, and catalysed volunteers' energy in
both Eastern and Western Europe (and anywhere else: as the internet has no
boundaries, there is no need to live in Europe to register). Founded in 1997,
Project Rastko is a non-governmental cultural and educational project. One of
its goals is the online publishing of Serbian culture. It is part of the Balkans
Cultural Network Initiative, a regional cultural network for the Balkan
peninsula in south-eastern Europe.

In May 2005, Distributed Proofreaders Europe finished processing its 100th
eBook. In June 2005 Project Gutenberg Europe was launched with these first 100
eBooks. PG Europe operates under "life +50" copyright laws. On August 3, 2005,
137 books were complete (processed through the site and posted to Project
Gutenberg Europe), 418 books were in progress (processed through the site but
not yet posted, because currently going through their final proofreading and
assembly), and 125 books were being proofread (currently being processed). DP
Europe supports Unicode to be able to proofread eBooks in numerous languages.
Unicode is an encoding system created in 1991 that gives a unique number for
every character in any language.
From the Past to the Future

10 books online in August 1989; 100 books in January 1994; 1,000 books in August
1997; 2,000 books in May 1999; 3,000 books in December 2000; 4,000 books in
October 2001; 5,000 books in April 2002; 10,000 books in October 2003; 15,000
books in January 2005; and 1 million books planned for 2015.

But Project Gutenberg's results are not only measured in numbers, which can't
compete yet with the number of print books in the public domain. The results
also include the major influence that the project has had. As the oldest
producer of free eBooks on the internet, Project Gutenberg has inspired many
other digital libraries, for example Projekt Gutenberg-DE for classic German
literature and Projekt Runeberg for classic Nordic (Scandinavian) literature, to
name only two.

Project Gutenberg keeps its administrative and financial structure to the bare
minimum. Its motto fits into three words: "Less is more". The minimal rules give
much space to volunteers and to new ideas. The goal is to ensure its
independence from loans and other funding and from ephemeral cultural
priorities, to avoid pressure from politicians or economic interests. The aim is
also to ensure respect for the volunteers, who can be confident their work will
be used not just for decades but for centuries. Volunteers can network through
mailing lists and weekly or monthly newsletters. Donations are used to buy
equipment and supplies, mostly computers and scanners. Founded in 2000, the
PGLAF (Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation) has only three part-time

More generally, Michael should be given more credit as the real inventor of the
eBook. If we consider the eBook in its etymological sense, that is to say a book
that has been digitized to be distributed as an electronic file, it is now 34
years old and was born with Project Gutenberg in July 1971. This is a much more
comforting paternity than the various commercial launchings in proprietary
formats that peppered the early 2000s. There is no reason for the term "eBook"
to be the monopoly of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Gemstar and others. The
non-commercial eBook is a full eBook, and not a "poor" version, just as
non-commercial ePublishing is a fully-fledged way of publishing, and as valuable
as commercial ePublishing. Project Gutenberg eTexts are now called eBooks, to
use the recent terminology in the field.

In July 1971, sending a 5K file to 100 people would have crashed the network of
the time. In November 2002, Project Gutenberg could post the 75 files of the
Human Genome Project, with files of dozens or hundreds of megabytes, shortly
after its initial release in February 2001, because it was public domain. In
2004, a computer hard disk costing US$140 could potentially hold the entire
Library of Congress. And we probably are only a few years away from a storage
disk capable of holding all the print media of our planet.

What about documents other than text?

In September 2003, Project Gutenberg launched Project Gutenberg Audio eBooks. As
of 2005, there are 391 computer-generated audio books and a few human-read audio
books. The number of human-read eBooks should greatly increase over the next few
years. As for computer-generated eBooks, it seems they won't be stored in a
specific section any more, but "converted" when requested from the existing
electronic files in the main collections. Voice-activated requests will be
possible, as a useful tool for visually impaired readers.

Launched at the same time, The Sheet Music Subproject is dedicated to digitized
music sheet. It also contains a few music recordings. Some still pictures and
moving pictures are also available. These new collections should take off in the

But digitizing books remains the priority, and there is a big demand, as
confirmed by the tens of thousands of eBooks that are downloaded every day. For
example, on July 31, 2005, there were 37,532 downloads for the day, 243,808
downloads for the week (July 24-31), and 1,154,765 downloads for the month. This
Hill), the main eBook distribution site (which also hosts the website). The
Internet Archive is the backup distribution site and provides unlimited disk
space for storage and processing. Project Gutenberg has 44 mirror sites in many
countries and is looking for new ones. It also encourages the use of P2P for
sharing its eBooks. The "Top 100" lists the top 100 eBooks and the top 100
authors for the previous day, the last 7 days and the last 30 days.

Project Gutenberg eBooks can also help bridge the "digital divide." They can be
read on a computer or a secondhand PDA costing just a few dollars. Solar-powered
PDAs offer a good solution in remote regions and developing countries.

eBooks are also copied on CDs and DVDs. Blank CDs and DVDs cost next to nothing,
as does their burning on a CD or DVD writer. Project Gutenberg sends a free CD
or DVD to anyone who asks for it, and people are encouraged to make copies for a
friend, a library or a school. Released in August 2003, the "Best of Gutenberg"
CD contains over 600 eBooks. Released in December 2003, the first Project
Gutenberg DVD contains 9,400 eBooks. A new DVD is in preparation. The current
prototype contains nearly 26,000 eBooks (with some titles in different versions
and formats), and is about 3/4 full.

By the time the collections hit one million eBooks in 2015 or before, it is
hoped machine translation software will be able to convert them from one to
another of 100 languages. In ten years from now, it is possible that machine
translation will be judged 99% satisfactory (research is very active on that
front, but there is still a lot to do), allowing for the reading of literary
classics in a choice of many languages. In 2004, Project Gutenberg was in touch
with a European project studying how to combine translation software and human
translators, somewhat as OCR software is now combined with the work of

34 years after the beginnings of Project Gutenberg, Michael Hart describes
himself as a workaholic who devotes his entire life to his project, because he
thinks eBooks will become the "killer ap(plication)" of the computer revolution.
He considers himself a pragmatic and farsighted altruist. For years he was
regarded as a nut but now he is respected. He wants to change the world through
freely-available eBooks that can be used and copied endlessly. Reading and
culture for everyone at minimal cost. Project Gutenberg's mission can be stated
in eight words: "To encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks," by
everybody, and by every possible means. While implementing new ideas, new
methods and new software.

Let us give the last word to Michael, whom I asked in August 1998: "What is your
best experience with the internet?" His answer was: "The notes I get that tell
me people appreciate that I have spent my life putting books, etc., on the
internet. Some are quite touching, and can make my whole day." Seven years
later, he confirms that his answer would still be the same.


1971 (July): Michael Hart keyed in The United States Declaration of Independence
(eBook # 1) and informed the first 100 internet users. Project Gutenberg was

1972: He keyed in The United States Bill of Rights (eBook # 2).

1973: He keyed in The United States Constitution (eBook # 5).

1974-1988: He keyed in parts of the Bible and several works by Shakespeare.

1989 (August): The King James Bible (eBook # 10).

1991 (January): Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (eBook # 11).

1991 (June): Peter Pan (eBook # 16).

1991: Digitization of one book per month.

1992: Digitization of two books per month.

1993: Digitization of four books per month.

1993 (December): Creation of three main sections: Light Literature, Heavy
Literature and Reference Literature.

1994: Digitization of eight books per month.

1994 (January): The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (eBook # 100).

1995: Digitization of 16 books per month.

1996-1997: Digitization of 32 books per month.

1997 (August): La Divina Commedia di Dante, in Italian (eBook # 1000).

1997: Launching of the Project Gutenberg Consortia Center.

1998-2000: Digitization of 36 books per month.

1999 (May): Don Quijote, by Cervantes, in Spanish (eBook # 2000).

2000: Creation of the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation.

2000 (October): Charles Franks conceived Distributed Proofreaders to assist
Project Gutenberg.

2000 (December): A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, 3rd volume, by Proust,
in French (eBook # 3000).

2001 (August): Creation of Project Gutenberg of Australia.

2001 (October): The French Immortals Series, in English (eBook # 4000).

2001: Digitization of 103 books per month.

2001: Distributed Proofreaders became the main source of Project Gutenberg

2002: Distributed Proofreaders became an official Project Gutenberg site.

2002 (April): The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, in English (eBook # 5000).

2003 (August): "Best of Gutenberg" CD with 600 eBooks.

2002: Digitization of 203 books per month.

2003 (September): Launching of Project Gutenberg Audio eBooks.

2003 (October): The number of eBooks doubled in 18 months, going from 5,000 to

2003 (October): The Magna Carta (eBook # 10000).

2003 (December): First DVD, with 9,400 eBooks.

2003: Project Gutenberg Consortia Center became an official Project Gutenberg

2003: Digitization of 355 books per month.

2004 (January): Launching of Project Gutenberg Europe by Project Rastko.

2004 (January): Launching of Distributed Proofreaders Europe by Project Rastko.

2004 (February): Michael Hart went off to Europe (Paris, Brussels, Belgrade).

2004 (February): Michael Hart's presentation at UNESCO headquarters, in Paris.

2004 (February): Michael Hart's visit to the European Parliament, in Brussels.

2004 (October): 5,000 eBooks processed by Distributed Proofreaders.

2004: Digitization of 336 books per month.

2005 (January): The Life of Reason, by George Santayana (eBook # 15000).

2005 (May): 7,000 eBooks processed by Distributed Proofreaders.

2005 (May): First 100 eBooks processed by Distributed Proofreaders Europe.

2005 (June): 16,000 eBooks in Project Gutenberg.

2005 (June): Project Gutenberg Europe has 100 eBooks.

2005 (July): First steps of Project Gutenberg of Canada.

2005 (October): 5th anniversary of Distributed Proofreaders.

2005: Digitization of 248 books per month.

2006 (January): Launching of Project Gutenberg PrePrints.

2006 (February): 8,000 eBooks processed by Distributed Proofreaders.

2006 (May): Creation of the Distributed Proofreaders Foundation.

2006 (July): 35th anniversary of Project Gutenberg.

2006 (July): New DVD, with 17,000 eBooks.

2006 (November): Launching of the Project Gutenberg News website.

2006 (December): 20,000 eBooks in Project Gutenberg.

2006 (December): 400 eBooks processed by Distributed Proofreaders Europe.

2006: Digitization of 360 books per month.

2010 (estimation): Automatic conversion in numerous formats.

2015 (estimation): 1,000,000 eBooks in Project Gutenberg.

2015 (estimation): Machine translation in 100 languages.


Project Gutenberg Europe: http://pge.rastko.net/

Distributed Proofreaders: http://www.pgdp.net/

Distributed Proofreaders's FAQ Central:

Distributed Proofreaders Europe: http://dp.rastko.net/

Project Gutenberg - Advanced Search:

Project Gutenberg - By Language: French:



[English version published by Project Gutenberg, 21 June 2004. Original version
published in French by Edition-Actu, 15 February 2004.]

When Michael Hart was a student at the University of Illinois (USA), in July
1971, he set up Project Gutenberg with the goal of making available for free,
and electronically, the largest possible number of books whose copyright had

This ground-breaking project became both the first Internet information site and
the world’s first digitized library. Michael himself typed in the first hundred
books. When the Internet became widely-used, in the mid-1990s, the project got a
boost and an international dimension. Michael still typed and scanned in books,
but now coordinated the work of dozens and then hundreds of volunteers in many

The number of electronic books rose from 1,000 (in August 1997) to 2,000 (in May
1999), 3,000 (in December 2000) and 4,000 (in October 2001). Project Gutenberg
had 5,000 books online in April 2002 and topped 10,000 in October 2003, when it
had a team of 1,000 volunteers around the world making 350 new books available
every month. These 10,000 books are also available on DVD for US$1 each. Michael
hopes to have a million available by 2015.

The books are digitized in "text" format, with caps for terms in italic, bold or
underlined, so they can be read easily by any machine, operating system or
software. Digitization is done by scanning. The book is then proofread twice by
two different people, who make any corrections necessary. When the original is
in poor condition, as with very old books, it is typed in manually, word by

Digitization in text format means a book can be copied, indexed, searched,
analyzed and compared with other books. It also makes a smaller and more easily
sendable computer file, unlike with scanning each page, which produces a bulky
"photo" file.

Hart describes himself as a workaholic who is devoting his entire life to the
project, which he sees as the start of a new Industrial Revolution. He considers
himself as a pragmatic and farsighted altruist. For years he was regarded as a
nut but now he is respected. He wants to change the world through
freely-available e-books that can be used and copied endlessly. Reading and
culture for everyone at minimal cost, on a computer or a secondhand PDA costing
just a few dollars, or even on a solar-powered PDA, which are starting to

In early 2004, after a stay on the US west coast, in San Francisco and Berkeley,
Hart went off to Europe, first Brussels and then Paris. He gave his first
lecture in France on 12 February at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, organised with
APRIL (Association pour la promotion et la recherche en informatique libre /
Association for Promotion and Research in Free Computing) and AFUL (Association
francophone des utilisateurs de Linux et des logiciels libres / French-speaking
Linux and Free Software Users’ Association). He chaired a discussion at the
French National Assembly on 13 February at the invitation of the discussion
group “Produire et gérer les savoirs” (Producing and Managing Knowledge), a
branch of the “Les temps nouveaux” (New Times) group.

What about books in French? The first digitized books were mostly in English but
now there are works in 25 different languages. Of the 11,340 e-books available
as of 13 February 2004, 181 were in French. The launch of Project Gutenberg
Europe in the next few weeks should see the number grow considerably, and so
much the better.

There is much work to be done putting all the classics of French culture online
freely available to all in a easy and practical format. A total of 1,117 books
are currently accessible in text format on Gallica (Bibliothèque nationale de
France / French National Library), 288 on ABU (Association des bibliophiles
universels / The Universal Association of Booklovers), 195 in html and/or rtf
format on Athena, and several dozen more on other websites. Some digital
libraries specialize in shorter material. These include the Bibliothèque
électronique de Lisieux (Lisieux Electronic Library), which digitizes mostly
news and articles, or Miscellanées, which calls itself a “miscellaneous”


[Original version published in French by Edition-Actu, 1st March 2004.]

Since my 15 February article about Michael Hart and Project Gutenberg, which
mentioned the forthcoming launch of Project Gutenberg Europe (Hart recently
spoke about it to the European Parliament), I’ve had a lot of questions from
readers. Here are some answers:

Remember Project Gutenberg is becoming international. Its main office is in the
United States, but Project Gutenberg Australia and Projekt Gutenberg-DE
(Germany) have been going for a long time. Project Gutenberg Europe will be
European, with a staff in Belgrade and links between the different projects. I
think it’s interesting to build a French-language online library working with
other groups. It’s preparing for the future, when machine translation will be
99% satisfactory (things are progressing well on that front, though there’s a
lot still to do). In about 10 years, everyone will be able to call up literary
classics in a choice of about 100 languages. Let’s work together instead of
separately, since for once it’s possible.

Let’s also remember that everyone working with Project Gutenberg is a volunteer,
including founder Michael Hart. The goal is to ensure its future independence of
loans and other funding and of fleeting political and cultural priorities, to
avoid any pressure from politicians or economic interests. The aim is also to
ensure respect for the volunteers, who can be confident their work will be used
for many years, even generations. Donations are used only to buy equipment and
supplies, mostly computers and scanners.

And then let’s remember that all the books scanned in are proofread twice, by
two different people, to make sure they are 99.9% accurate. Software on the
website (which is still being tested) allows users to convert books in ASCII,
ISO-8859, Unicode and Big-5, for example, into other formats. Conversion will
eventually be possible into still more formats, including Braille and voice. So
there’s no point arguing about which format is best. Text format can either be
used as is or to create others. Text-format books can also be easily used by
those who want to offer them in more sophisticated formats, without any
restriction except for respect for copyright laws in the country involved and
the availability of new free versions produced.

Some readers have asked about how volunteer proofreaders work. You go to the
Distributed Proofreaders Europe website that has just been put up (and is still
being tested) by Project Rastko (Belgrade) to handle the shared proofreading
done by Project Gutenberg Europe. Sign up and you’ll then see detailed
instructions (which are still being translated in several languages). For
example, passages in bold, italic or underlined, like footnotes, are always
treated the same way, to standardize presentation of all the e-books. A
discussion forum allows you to ask questions or seek help at any time.

Each time you go to the website, you choose the book you want. Pages of the book
appear side by side in two forms – one the scanned image and the other the text
produced by OCR (optical character recognition) software. You compare the two
and make corrections. OCR is usually 99% accurate, which makes for about 10
corrections a page. You save each page you do and can then either stop work or
do another. All the books are proofread twice (the second time only by
experienced proofreaders) before the final version is ready for the public
(after which any further errors noted by readers are systematically corrected).

You don’t have any quota to fulfill, but it’s recommended you do a page a day if
possible. It doesn’t seem much but with hundreds of volunteers it really adds
up. In 2003, on the original site of Distributed Proofreaders, about 250-300
people were working each day, producing a daily total of 2,500-3,000 pages, the
equivalent of two pages a minute.

Volunteers can also work independently, by digitizing a whole book in any
word-processing programme or else scan it in and convert it into text using OCR
software and then make corrections by comparing it with the original. In each
case, someone else will proofread it.

[These two articles appeared in French ("Michael Hart, ou la volonté de changer
le monde par le biais de l'ebook" & "Project Gutenberg: quelques réponses à vos
questions") in Edition Actu nos. 90 and 91, of 15 February and 1 March 2004.
Edition Actu is the electronic newsletter of CyLibris (distributed free every
fortnight) which aims to look at publishing from a different angle. CyLibris,
founded in Paris in August 1996 and a pioneer of online publishing, was the
first French publisher to use the Internet and digitization to bring out
literary works.]

Copyright © 2005 Marie Lebert

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