The Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation:
Cease and Desist Responses

International Copyright Guidance for Project Gutenberg

About this Document

This document provides Project Gutenberg, and other interested parties, with guidance concerning books and other works that are in the public domain in the United States, but might have copyright protection elsewhere in the world. Information in this document has been confirmed as accurate, based on a thorough review of U.S. laws and international treaties the U.S. is party to.

About Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg was the first provider of free electronic books, or eBooks. Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, invented eBooks in 1971 in Urbana, Illinois. Michael’s legacy continues to inspire the creation of eBooks and related technologies today.

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

About PGLAF

Project Gutenberg was operated as a proprietorship from 1971-2000, with Michael Hart as the principal. In 2000, the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation (PGLAF) was formed as a Trust. It received initial determination of charitable status by the IRS on October 31, 2000, and registered as a corporation in 2001.

Final IRS charitable status determination was issued on October 19, 2005. PGLAF is designated by the IRS as a public charity under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, with an organization type as defined under section 170(b)(1)(A)(vi).

The U.S. federal employee ID for PGLAF is 64-6221541.

The “Project Gutenberg” trademark was first registered by Michael Hart on March 19, 2002 and was since renewed and licensed to PGLAF.

PGLAF operates Project Gutenberg, and is wholly responsible for Project Gutenberg’s operations and business activities. In support of operations and business activities, PGLAF employs a quarter-time office administrator, which is the only employee. The office address, and current registered address of PGLAF, is: 809 North 1500 West, Salt Lake City, UT 84116.

Day-to-day activities of Project Gutenberg are carried out by volunteers. Volunteers are the producers of Project Gutenberg’s eBooks, and also maintain its online presence. These volunteers do not work for PGLAF, and are not under contract to PGLAF for their activities.

Additional information about PGLAF, including Articles of Incorporation, By-Laws, current Board members, IRS non-profit determination letters, and other information is available at www.gutenberg.org.

U.S.-only Operations and Business Activities

Project Gutenberg, and PGLAF, operates only in the United States. All public servers for content delivery (WWW, FTP, etc.) are in the U.S. All PGLAF Board members are U.S. nationals or lawful permanent residents. The registered office and employee are in the U.S.

PGLAF annually files U.S. tax returns and other necessary documentation, as part of its compliance as a legitimate and legally operating U.S. non-profit corporation.

Project Gutenberg, and PGLAF, have no business presence or operations outside of the U.S. PGLAF is not registered as a business anywhere but the U.S., submits no tax or other business filings except in the U.S., and has no employees outside of the U.S.

The main Web site, www.gutenberg.org, is in the U.S. All supporting systems, including servers, sites, software, databases, etc. are in the U.S. Publication of new or updated eBooks to Project Gutenberg is made only to systems in the U.S. Any party that access content from Project Gutenberg, including receiving eBook files, does so by interacting with a computer system in the U.S.

No International Affiliations, Subsidies or Business Partners

Prior to PGLAF’s incorporation, Michael Hart made agreements with individuals to utilize the “Project Gutenberg” name for like-minded activities outside of the U.S. PGLAF has no written agreements, operational ties, or other relationship with these or any other organization outside of the U.S., and the “Project Gutenberg” trademark name is not officially licensed to any party outside of the U.S.

As a courtesy, and in recognition of the relationships with Michael Hart formed with other eBook organizations, the organizations he made agreements with are listed on the “Partners and Affiliates” Web page at www.gutenberg.org.

Project Gutenberg Terms of Use

Each Project Gutenberg eBook has a header, within the eBook, guiding readers to consult the laws of their country if they are not in the U.S. The header text has been updated from time to time. The current header is:

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and most other parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org. If you are not located in the United States, you'll have to check the laws of the country where you are located before using this ebook.

Project Gutenberg eBooks also contain a footer text, which is the license for commercial use of the trademark, and some explanatory text about the public domain (also available at www.gutenberg.org/license). Approximately 1% of the Project Gutenberg collection is copyrighted by parties that donated their works to Project Gutenberg, and the footer also includes any pertinent information about that copyright.

The Project Gutenberg Web site, at www.gutenberg.org, also has a Terms of Use section on the main page, with links to pages with additional detail. The current text of the Terms of Use on the main page is:

Our eBooks may be freely used in the United States because most are not protected by U.S. copyright law, usually because their copyrights have expired. They may not be free of copyright in other countries. Readers outside of the United States must check the copyright terms of their countries before downloading or redistributing our eBooks. We also have a number of copyrighted titles, for which the copyright holder has given permission for unlimited non-commercial worldwide use.

Determination of U.S. Public Domain Status

Over the years it has operated, Project Gutenberg has developed and updated a “copyright how-to,” accessible at www.gutenberg.org, to guide determination of public domain status in the U.S. This how-to has been extensively reviewed and updated by lawyers and other copyright experts, and is believed to be exemplary and accurate.

Public domain status is only assessed for purposes of U.S. laws. Knowledgeable and trained Project Gutenberg volunteers exercise all due diligence and caution in making public domain determinations for items that are under consideration for the Project Gutenberg collection.

Duration of Copyright Protection, per International Treaties

It is required by the Berne Convention of 1886 and subsequent treaties that foreign works are given the same protection as national works, in a given country [“Works originating in one of the Contracting States (that is, works the author of which is a national of such a State or works first published in such a State) must be given the same protection in each of the other Contracting States as the latter grants to the works of its own nationals (principle of "national treatment"), WIPO 2017].

This is one of several clear statements in Berne and following treaties (URAA, WIPO, etc.) that copyright duration and status on one country (whether or not it is the country of origin) has no bearing on copyright duration and status in another country. Countries must comply with terms of the treaty, and the terms are that copyright duration in the U.S. is neither lengthened or shortened due to copyright duration in other countries, including for items which originated in other countries. Nor is copyright protection granted, or discontinued, based on copyright status in other countries.

No Itemization of Permitted Uses

Project Gutenberg does not attempt to enumerate, itemize, or classify the permitted or non-permitted uses of items in its collection. It is explicitly stated, in the header and footer, that essentially any use of public domain items is permitted within the U.S., other than some restrictions on commercial use or redistribution under the Project Gutenberg trademark license.

For visitors to the Project Gutenberg site who are outside of the U.S., it is not feasible to enumerate, itemize or classify permitted or non-permitted uses of Project Gutenberg eBooks. It is known that for some items in the public domain in the U.S., they simultaneously have copyright protection in other countries. This difference results primarily from U.S. items being returned to the public domain after expiration of a copyright term based on publication date, while in many other countries the return to the public domain is based on time elapsed since the author’s death.

All known jurisdictions share the notion that copyright provides a limited period of time during which the rights-holder has specific rights to their works. In the U.S., for example, this is stated in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution: [The Congress shall have power] “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

All known jurisdictions have provisions for permitted uses of items while under copyright protection. The most obvious is that books and other works are sold to people, who then have a right to read and enjoy the book, and to retain it indefinitely.

Many jurisdictions also make provisions for uses of copyrighted items which were not purchased by an individual, group or organization. For example, “fair dealing” (known as “fair use” in the United States) gives exemptions in many countries for utilizing copyrighted items for protected purposes. These typically include research and education, news reporting, criticism and satire.

Laws concerning aspects of copyright protection for electronic versions of books and other works are still undergoing development and change, in the U.S. and elsewhere. For example, laws in the U.S. do not fully articulate whether there are limitations on the ability of libraries or individuals to loan eBooks, or to make copies of them. Another example is whether an individual who purchases a printed book can also legally possess a digitized copy of that book’s contents.

Individuals located outside of the U.S. must take steps themselves to ensure their use of Project Gutenberg’s eBooks is legitimate.

In the event a rights-holder outside of the U.S. becomes aware of infringing activity by individuals, groups or organizations outside of the U.S., it is up to that rights-holder to seek surcease from the infringer.

The fact of Project Gutenberg being the source for eBooks does not make Project Gutenberg responsible for assessing, reporting, or blocking non-U.S. access to its content, or otherwise assisting rights-holders in addressing any infringing activity outside of the U.S. Similarly, Project Gutenberg or PGLAF are not culpable, in any way, for infringement on rights held outside of the U.S.

Anonymous Access and Logging

Users of Project Gutenberg are anonymous. No registration, authentication or authorization is required to access the site, or any contents. Users are free to download eBooks to their own computers or other devices.

Project Gutenberg’s servers capture Web logging information such as IP addresses, time of requests, and which files were viewed. The logging information is summarized for Web features such as the “Top 100” list. Raw download data are not indefinitely retained.

No Geo-Location

Project Gutenberg does not perform any geo-location, such as reverse lookup of user’s IP addresses to determine where they are. There are no geo-location or IP-based customizations in the Project Gutenberg site: all users get exactly the same content.

Significant Non-Infringing Uses

Project Gutenberg provides over 54,000 eBooks as of late 2017, with a growth rate of around 200 additional eBooks per month. This includes essentially all of the world’s great literature that is in the public domain in the U.S.

The proportion of Project Gutenberg items that still have copyright protection somewhere else in the world is not known, but is estimated to be under 20%. As mentioned above, even for items under copyright in a particular jurisdiction, there are provisions for permitted uses.

Every Project Gutenberg item may be utilized by people in the U.S., without limitation (other than the trademark license for commercial redistribution). Many of those items are also in the public domain in other parts of the world, based on their age. Copyrighted items that have been donated to Project Gutenberg are licensed for worldwide, perpetual, unlimited redistribution. All told, there are many thousands of items which have no encumbrance on use, anywhere in the world.

For items that are in the public domain in the U.S., but still have copyright protection somewhere in the world, there are still significant uses which do not infringe on the copyrights. These include all uses by persons in the U.S., as well as uses by people in other jurisdictions where the item is in the public domain. In addition, as described above, some permitted uses can occur even in jurisdictions where copyright protection still applies.

Restoration of Copyright

Under the Uruguay Round Agreements Act of 1994, the U.S. meets its obligations under the TRIPS agreement of the WTO. This provides copyright protection to certain foreign works (see “Copyright Restoration under the URAA”), including restoration of copyright to works for which protection had expired. Project Gutenberg’s Copyright How-To goes beyond the protections afforded to foreign works in the U.S., by only providing a public domain assessment for non-U.S. works if the normal copyright term has expired, including applicable term renewals (“Rule 1” of the Copyright How-To).

Project Gutenberg does not make allowances that might be permitted by U.S. law, in order to avoid complex determinations of public domain status. For example, it does not consider treaty status of countries at the time of publication, which would otherwise enable publications from countries such as former Soviet states to lose U.S. copyright protection. Similarly, Project Gutenberg does not consider the lack or presence of any Notice of Intent permitted under URAA, because it treats all non-U.S. works only under Rule 1 of the Copyright How-To.

No “Rule of the Shorter Term”

U.S. copyright law generally does not take copyright status in other countries into account for determining the status of an item in the U.S. Unlike EU law, for example, where a “rule of the shorter term” might decrease the duration of copyright protection in a country due to status in another country, in the U.S. the duration of copyright protection is independent of copyright status or duration elsewhere.

The exception, which is occasionally used by Project Gutenberg, is for items from a foreign country that are granted to the public domain upon creation. This is used for government works under Project Gutenberg’s “Rule 8,” and has been applied to government works from the U.S., and Crown works from Canada and England.

Any Copyright Infringement Occurs where Items are Copyrighted

Consider an item which still has copyright protection in country X, but for which the copyright term has expired in the U.S.

Consider that this item has been digitized and published online by Project Gutenberg, at www.gutenberg.org.

When a person in the U.S. accesses the item, no infringement on rights of the copyright holder in country X occurs.

If a person accesses the item from country X, infringement of the rights may occur (also see “No Itemization of Permitted Uses,” above). Any such infringement would occur in country X, not the U.S. Any such infringement would have been carried out by the person who accessed the item, not by Project Gutenberg.

Therefore, if a rights holder believes an infringement may have occurred, it is the responsibility of the rights holder, not Project Gutenberg, to pursue remedies from the person.

Furthermore, if a rights holder believes it is necessary to proactively prevent access to items in the Project Gutenberg collection, that rights holder must work within available mechanisms in its own jurisdiction to implement such blocks. Project Gutenberg has no obligation, and no intention, to block items because some people in other countries might not have rights to utilize an item in its collection.

Applicability of Lex Loci Protectionis

Rights holders in other countries have, from time to time, presented a theory to Project Gutenberg that their copyright means Project Gutenberg may not digitize or distribute an item known to be in the public domain in the U.S. This theory is based on the incorrect notion that copyright status in a given country (country X in the example above) has applicability in the U.S.

Under the principle of lex loci protectionis, and as described above, when rights holders in country X believe infringement may be occurring in country X, they must use the laws and protections of country X in pursuit of infringers of country X. Project Gutenberg has no role, including any responsibility or culpability, in such situations.

Because there is no infringement occurring in the U.S., lex loci protectionis dictates that a rights holder in country X cannot pursue remedies from Project Gutenberg, because there is no applicable law (locus protectionis) in the U.S.

Illegitimate DMCA Takedown Requests

Rights holders in other countries have, from time to time, utilized the form of a digital millennium copyright act (DMCA) “takedown request” or similar, to ask Project Gutenberg to remove items from its collection, when those items are in the public domain in the U.S.

As described above, such requests have no legitimacy, and the form of the request has no bearing on its legitimacy. Project Gutenberg has received legal advice that such illegitimate requests are, in fact, illegal under U.S. law, and may be met by lawsuit or other remedies against the complainant under the provisions of the DMCA.

Jurisdiction for Lawsuit

In the event that any party, for any reason, chooses to file suit against PGLAF, it is advisable for that suit to be filed in the jurisdiction where PGLAF is based. This is Salt Lake City, Utah, where the business office is located. Alternatively, Oxford, Mississippi, where PGLAF was first incorporated (but no longer has a business presence or agent).

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on May 22, 2017 (in 16-341) against plaintiffs seeking “courts of convenience” for purposes of intellectual property lawsuits. As a matter of policy, and as a legitimate and law-abiding corporation, PGLAF will respond diligently to any Court that has jurisdiction over it.

Links for further reading and additional information

WIPO (2017). Summary of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886). Online: http://www.wipo.int/treaties/en/ip/berne/summary_berne.html

Project Gutenberg (2017). Copyright How-To. Online: https://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Gutenberg:Copyright_How-To

U.S. Library of Congress (2011). Duration of Copyright (circular 15a). Online: https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ15a.pdf

U.S. Library of Congress (2013). Copyright Restoration under the URAA (circular 38b). Online: https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ38b.pdf

(Most recently updated: October 23, 2017.)


Earlier letters and information

The Foundation operates in support of Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg operates in strict conformance to the copyright laws of the United States, and is highly motivated to identify items which are public domain in the United States for addition to the Project Gutenberg collection.

For various reasons, persons and organizations claiming to own copyright to some of the public domain works that Project Gutenberg redistributes often choose to contact PGLAF. Usually, the contact consists of variations on asserting copyright ownership over a public domain item, and insisting that we remove it from our collection.

These pages include some of our responses to such letters, in the hopes that they will be useful to other advocates of the public domain. They might also be helpful to organizations considering sending such a letter to the Foundation.

Some brief facts concerning these types of correspondence:


Sample Responses

Our responses indicate the nature of the complaint, the eBook(s) or authors involved, and our proposed resolution to the issues raised.