RIP, Project Gutenberg founder Michael Hart

As Mark posted yesterday, Project Gutenberg founder Michael S. Hart, who invented ebooks when he keyed in the text of the Declaration of Independence in 1971, has died. He was 64. He was a copyfighter and a hero of the Internet revolution. Michael honored me by including my books in the Gutenberg archive, and was a challenging and invigorating correspondent.
Michael S. Hart left a major mark on the world. The invention of eBooks was not simply a technological innovation or precursor to the modern information environment. A more correct understanding is that eBooks are an efficient and effective way of unlimited free distribution of literature. Access to eBooks can thus provide opportunity for increased literacy. Literacy, and the ideas contained in literature, creates opportunity.

In July 2011, Michael wrote these words, which summarize his goals and his lasting legacy: “One thing about eBooks that most people haven't thought much is that eBooks are the very first thing that we're all able to have as much as we want other than air. Think about that for a moment and you realize we are in the right job." He had this advice for those seeking to make literature available to all people, especially children:

"Learning is its own reward. Nothing I can say is better than that."

Michael is remembered as a dear friend, who sacrificed personal luxury to fight for literacy, and for preservation of public domain rights and resources, towards the greater good.

E-book pioneer Michael Hart dies

(Image: The Outlaw Michael Hart, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from benchilada's photostream)


    1. Everything Michael wore went with everything else Michael wore. He cared about fashions as much as he did Kardashians. Cardassians, sure, but that’s different.

      I mentioned his shoes when I took that photo for him. The Outlaw Michael Hart is how he felt that day, and he scoffed at the idea that an outlaw would wear anything other than sensible shoes. If you look carefully, you’ll see he’s holding one of his old silver cap guns….

      He was my friend and I miss him dearly.

  1. Project Gutenberg is one of the most important though unpolished gems of the Internet. Hart should be given a hero’s burial.

    1. @weatherman:disqus 
      Anyone that advances the cause of litteracy through archiving as many public domain’d works as can be transcribed and then allow the public free unlimited access to should have funerary honors equal to heads of state.

      Then again I’m sure he would want any money we would want spent on lavishments to be instead speant on Gutenberg so it can continue giving back to the world.

  2. Project Gutenberg is a flagship for what the web could be if we didn’t hinder it with laws written by (and for) pre-web businesses. It’s a living Library of Alexandria. I remember it as one of the first places I visited online where the value the web could bring was expanded 100 fold in my imagination. It remains one of the first sites I send others to visit when they inquire about “places” they should go. Thanks, Michael. I hope the future you started decades ago opens up beyond what we have at present: the DRM, the vendor lock-in, and the privacy-averse devices. There’s no reason that devices that can display text shouldn’t be able to display that text. And yet, it goes on:!/K_REY_C/status/111920849627529216/photo/1/large Thanks for starting us out, pointing us in the right direction, and working tirelessly, Michael. I didn’t know your name until now, but I really appreciate all the work you’ve done.

  3. I never knew him, did not even know his name.   But he has always been a hero of mine, from the early internet days.   Doing something to benefit everyone, just because it was the right thing to do.  As stated below, a true gem of the Internet, and culture in general.  Thank you, Michael Hart.

  4. Cory, I am truly saddened to read that you have lost a good friend. Thanks to project Gutenberg I have been working my way through Darwin’s On The Origin Of Species on my phone whenever I’m on a bus or in line at the bank etc. I’m sure I’m not the only person to enjoy free books on a smartphone this way; what a wonderful gift this man has given the world. Thank you Micheal Hart.

  5. A sad day! I remember finding a copy of Alice In Wonderland on the Gutenberg Project on my 386 SX 25 over dialup on IE 3 and reading the entire thing in middle school – for free! At the time I assumed that it would become something like what Wikipedia has; a sort of digital Library of Alexandria. The project never grew to that size or scope, but it’s been an invaluable resource over the years, and certainly a milestone for copyright and fair use activists. So long, Michael Hart, and thanks for all the fis^H^H^H books!

  6. Such an amazing guy working on one of the most important projects imaginable.

    About 5 years ago I had lunch with my then 81 year old Grandfather and his 6 friends. All of them were complaining about today’s generation and how silly Facebook and the Internet was. I tried to argue in vain.

    And then I thought- Project Gutenberg!
    The minute I showed them the Gutenberg website with its amazing collection of literature they were Gobsmacked. The Library of Alexandria accessible to everyone for free!
    That morning 7 pensioners ‘got’ the internet, bought a PC, and convinced their friends that it was completely worthwhile. I started my business that day also.

  7. My granddaughter said, “Grandpa, you used to have a lot of books.” 

    I showed her Project Gutenberg. “I have many thousands,” I said.

    Thanks to that great man, Michael Hart.   

  8. Thanks to this man I can read Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ on my e-book reader for nothing.  I can read Seutonius’ ‘Lives of the Caesars’ for nothing.  I can’t even find a bookseller who sells both those books at the same time, and I live in London.

    Also, as an aside, as I’m a musician, I’d also direct readers to . Inspired by Mr Hart I imagine, but for sheet music.  He’s had his share of copyright pain, deserves a visit too.

    Donations to people.  So many books, only one lifetime.

  9. I had a lot of email correspondence with Michael Hart and visited with him for 4 days in 2008. The NY Times obit quotes (then) Stanford Professor Larry Lessig saying that he decided not to use MH as the lead plaintiff in the case opposing the ‘Sonny Bono’ Copyright Term Extension Act.

    MH told me that he quit the case after Lessig told him MH’s job was to sit there and keep his mouth shut and let Lessig handle all the case strategy … Professor Lessig must have had a different  Michael Hart in mind … and MH was livid that Lessig went on to lose the case at the US Supreme Court and (according to the NY Times obit) “a million e-books [were removed] from the public domain by extending the copyright by 20 years” and thus not eligible for USA.

  10. For those interested, be they Cory or others, information is as follows for his services. Spread the word to people you might know who knew him or want to see him off:

    ** Memorial service plans for Michael Hart **

    Monday, September 12

    Renner-Wikoff Chapel & Crematory
    1900 Philo Road, Urbana

    11 am – 1 pm: Visitation
    1:00 pm: Memorial service

    Immediately following:
    Burial at Westlawn Cemetary, Urbana
    Followed by a reception.

    A block of hotel rooms is being held at Eastland Suites Urbana.
    1907 N Cunningham Ave
    Urbana, IL 61802

    There will be an informal no-host gathering Sunday night September 11,
    in Eastland Stes. Urbana, from approximately 7-9:30 pm.



  11. While everyone is off debating politics and world events.. a TRULY great man has died.. one that actually DID make the world a better place by being in it!  Perhaps.. instead of donating money to political campaigns… in his honor.. THIS political season.. donate that money to Project Gutenberg!  And, maybe.. just maybe.. we CAN change the world!

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