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Farewell, gutenberg.org

/ (last edited)

Don’t worry. It’s not gone.

It’s just blocked due to a lawsuit filed against the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation.

It’s nasty business and in my opinion it’s disturbing news. But it’s also quite hilarious if you dig lawyer’s jargon.

gutenberg.org blocked in Germany

What happened?

As of February 28, 2018 all access is blocked to gutenberg.org if you try to access it from a German IP.

Project Gutenberg hosts over 50.000 books and this hasn’t been a problem until 2013. The S. Fischer Verlag GmbH contacted Project Gutenberg via e-mail. The publisher wanted 18 works to be removed from the Gutenberg index. They also demanded access to the log files in order to determine the number of downloads.

Project Gutenberg didn’t obey. A lawsuit followed.

The lawsuit is concerned with 18 (!) books out of the plethora of literary works.

According to the court’s decision (German original / English translation) the following literary works are the basis for all the drama:

  • Works by Heinrich Mann (died in 1950)
    • Der Untertan
    • Die Ehrgeizige
    • Professor Unrat oder Das Ende eines Tyrannen
    • Der Vater
    • Flöten und Dolche
    • Flaubert und die Herkunft des modernen Romans
  • Works by Thomas Mann (died in 1955)
    • Buddenbrooks
    • Der Tod in Venedig
    • Der kleine Herr Friedemann
    • Tristan
    • Gladius Dei
    • Schwere Stunde
    • Königliche Hoheit
    • Tonio Kröger
  • Works by Alfred Döblin (died in 1957)
    • Die Ermordung einer Butterblume und andere Erzählungen
    • Die drei Sprünge des Wang-lun
    • Die Lobensteiner reisen nach Böhmen
    • Wallenstein

I haven’t read any of those books. Not yet. The chances were slim before and are only getting slimmer, now that access to one of my favorite platforms has been denied.

The German alternative (projekt.gutenberg.de) is not really an alternative. It’s not affiliated with the original project, doesn’t adhere to the same quality standards, its layout sucks, it’s bloated, and it’s full of annoying ads. There is an entry for Thomas Mann and a note says that “Der Zauberberg” is already in their archives but “gesperrt” until January 1, 2026.

Honestly, I don’t give a shit.

“Life +70 years”

That’s how copyright works in Germany. In the US it’s different. “Copyright protection for works published prior to 1978 is based on the number of years since publication”, according to the FAQ published by the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation.

In the US, the 18 works are already in the public domain.

Now, if I were a lawyer, I would be rubbing my hands in excitement as well.

I don’t get it

I mean, of course I get it. It’s about the protection and the enforcement of copyright laws. It’s probably about money, too.

Project Gutenberg could have complied by simply blocking access to the infringing items in their index. Instead, they opted for the all-or-nothing approach. I admire the passion behind that decision.

I miss browsing their content, though. Many of the books I read in the past years I had found there.

None of them were German.