The Online Books Page

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August 23, 2013

I started the Online Books Page 20 years ago this summer. Part of what I'm doing to celebrate is to release the catalog records I've personally created for it into the public domain. That means anyone's free to copy and use them for whatever purpose they see fit. I hope this will lead to free online books being more visible, more discoverable, and more generally useful online.

You can find more details on this Everybody's Libraries post.

Have fun!

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

February 11, 2013

You can now find lots more things to read for free from this site. We now offer links from The Online Books Page to books and other resources at your library (if we know what it is), as well to online resources linked from Wikipedia articles. The links appear on subject browsing pages, authors' book listings, and detailed catalog pages for each title.

More information about the service, and its rationale, can be found at Everybody's Libraries. I'd be delighted to hear what you think.

December 25, 2010

Our online catalog now exceeds 1 million items. You can read more about this milestone on Everybody's Libraries.

November 16, 2010

We now have a Twitter account that readers can follow. We plan to use it to announce when a new day's batch of books are available, and note some of the highlights of the day's additions. (You can then check our new books page or our RSS feed for more details and links.) We may also occasionally post other comments, short news items, or information about the site and its books.

Follow @onlinebookspage in your favorite Twitter client (or just bookmark this page in your web browser-- no Twitter signup required) if you'd like to get these news postings. And perhaps one of your own suggestions will show up in one of our tweets.

October 18, 2010

Today, The Online Books Page increases its repertoire of titles twentyfold, with our new extended shelves.

The extended shelves consist of book information downloaded in bulk from selected online book projects, adapted by various automated means for The Online Books Page. Listings from the extended shelves are displayed with an [X-Info] icon; listings that we've reviewed and edited ourselves (the "curated collection"), which include all of our pre-existing listings, are displayed with the [Info] icon.

Initially, the extended shelves include all of the public domain and other fully readable online books provided by Hathi Trust that we don't already list. We hope to include additional books from other collections in the future. Combined with our existing listings, our new extended-shelves data lets users browse and search over 800,000 books by subject, author, title, and Library of Congress call number. In all, you can now find more than 1 million freely readable online volumes via this site. (We prefer to count multi-volume works once, however.)

Book records on the extended shelves have not been reviewed by the editor, and might not be fully detailed, or fully consistent with other records on this site. Many of the searching and browsing results will show curated records before records from the extended shelves. Some search and browse pages will not show results from the extended shelves until you ask for them. (This is done both to avoid overwhelming the user with results, and in some cases to avoid overwhelming the server software. As we now have nearly a million records in a database designed for tens of thousands, we'd like to avoid overtaxing the system unnecessarily.) If you want to see more results, look for an "include extended shelves" link near the top of the page to expand the results you see. (Once you've done that, you can select a similar "exclude extended shelves" link in mahy cases if you want to go back to the shorter result sets from the curated collection.)

Books in the extended shelves can be added to the curated collection on request. If you select the [X-Info] icon next to a book listing on the extended shelves, the resulting book information page will include a link for requesting curation of the title. Selecting that link will bring you to our book suggestion form, with the book's cataloging information already filled in. You can correct or add to the information if you like, and then press the "Submit this suggestion" button at the bottom of the form to submit the book for consideration. We'll review the book's information and copyright status, and then add the record to our curated collection if and when it satisfies us. That will give the book a stable, linkable information page here, and make it show up more prominently in browsing and search results.

On the Everybody's Libraries blog, you can read more about how and why we've added these records to our listings. We hope you find the new listings useful, and would love to hear from you about them, and about books from the extended shelves you'd like us to curate.

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

June 18, 2010

If you've been browsing by subject lately, you may notice that there's now a richer set of interconnections between subjects, and descriptions of subjects, than there used to be. That's because we've started to incorporate data from the Library of Congress' Authorities and Vocabularies website, and also started to develop smarter rules for interpreting and integrating this data. You can read more about it in this blog post.

This is the first in a series of steps we'll be taking over the next few months to improve the scope and intelligence of our collection of free online books. Watch this space for further updates, or follow the Everybody's Libraries blog.

The Online Books Page will be down for parts of the weekend of June 19-20, due to server and power maintenance at the University of Pennsylvania, where this site is hosted. We hope the downtime will be minimal, but it may last as much as 12 hours or more.

(Update: Power has been restored, and the Online Books page should now be fully operational. Let us know if you encounter any problems.)

May 16, 2008

The Online Books Page now implements the Basic Discovery Interfaces (or "Level 1") of the Digital Library Federation's "ILS-Discovery Interface" recommendations. These recommendations, which are being produced by a task force I chaired, call for integrated library systems (ILS's) to allow their data and services to be used in standard ways by all kinds of discovery applications.

While these recommendations are primarily designed for ILS's, they have broader applicability: other digital indexes of information resources, such as The Online Books Page, can implement them too. Using these interfaces, discovery applications can import data and invoke services that let users discover items from their library catalogs and from online digital collections in a uniform way.

The recommendations are still in draft form, but will be officially released shortly. I encourage interested people to find out more, and try implementing or using them. More information on the recommendations, and the Online Books Page implementation, can be found here. Feel free to send me any questions or ideas you have on using them.

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

January 1, 2008

Happy New Year, and happy Public Domain Day! Today a year's worth of copyrights enter the public domain in many countries, and I'm also dedicating versions of this site older than 14 years into the public domain, and expanded our Creative Commons licensing of our catalog. See this post at Everybody's Libraries for more details about the new material contributed to the public domain, and this page for more details about the public domain dedication and Creative Commons licenses that now apply to various parts and versions of this site. We'll be converting the copyright notices of this site over time to reflect our new policies.

This is as good a time as any to refer readers of this site to Everybody's Libraries, a new blog I've started about "libraries for everybody, by everybody, shared with everybody, about everything". The posts include items about free online books, as well as other issues. I started the blog at about the same time as I discontinued the Book People mailing list, a mailing list for announcing and discussing free online books and related issues. Mailing list discussions of free online books continue in the successor list Book Futures (moderated by Kent Larsen), and various other lists linked to from the old Book People page.

May 31, 2007

Do you want to see substantially more new listings on The Online Books Page? Do you want to see your suggestions to us appear in the index quickly? Or do you want to collaborate in cataloging new items? You're in luck.

We've been recently making some changes in the "back end" of The Online Books Page to streamline submissions, let our users help us with cataloging, and import individual books and large collections largely automatically. The first visible appearance of these changes is a new suggestion form that permits us to quickly and easily review submissions, and that supports both simple user requests and also detailed cataloging from interested and knowledgeable users. This will be the preferred way of submitting book listings, and we've rewritten our book suggestion page accordingly. For folks who want to provide fully cataloged submissions that we can drop directly into our database, we have a page on form submission tips.

Individual submissions aren't as fast as bulk-loading whole collections will be. (That's being planned too, though.) But the submission form allows individual submissions to be brought in more quickly and at higher volume, particularly for folks who use the form to help out with the cataloging. And they can provide ways of quickly importing the most sought-after titles in the large-scale collections. We invite you to try out the form when there's a book you'd like to see listed here. And let us know if you have any questions or problems.

March 29, 2006

We've unveiled some new changes this week that give our listings considerable new depth.

Our listings now feature an Info icon in front of each citation. This icon leads you to a page with more information about the book. This information includes the full title and author names, links to the full book content, and often call numbers and descriptive subject terms. There is also a new stable link shown for the information page that can be used for external links. Using these stable links may be more reliable and informative than linking directly to book content in many cases.

You can select many of the links on our book information pages to find related titles. Selecting the book's title from this page turns up other books, if any, with the same title. Selecting an author name will display all books we list by that author. Selecting the book's call number will let you browse books with similar call numbers.

Selecting a subject term will put you into our new experimental subject browser that shows not only books described by the same subject term, but also related subject terms. You can also browse subject terms alphabetically. We're still working on developing and refining this browser, and the terms we've assigned to books (which initially have been largely assigned automatically, and sometimes imprecisely). But we're hopeful that this will become a powerful way of finding books on topics that interest you.

We'd slowed down our rate of addition of new titles while we were working on these new features. We're aware that while we've focused on improving depth, the breadth of titles available online has exploded, thanks to the various mass digitization programs we've reported on in the past. But our work, and the standardization and automation that was developed along with it, also will make it easier for us to create useful listings for these large collections in more automated and distributed fashions. This should make it possible to build a large catalog that still makes it easy to find what you want to read.

We're excited about the new features, and looking forward to applying them in new ways to many more books. We are very interested in your comments and suggestions. And thank you as always for your support!

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

November 4, 2005

The first sizable batch of public domain books from the Google Print Library project starting coming out recently. There are thousands of books in this batch. I've only listed some of them here to date (focusing on titles specifically requested or mentioned by readers), but more will follow. Because Google's being cautious about international copyright, many are only available in the US right now, even if they're in the public domain elsewhere. But other groups are working on transcribing these for open access. You can search for more public domain books by going to print.google.com and preceding or following your search terms with "date:1600-1922" to limit the search to books Google knows are in the US public domain. See the advanced print search for more details on how you can search. Please let me know if there are particular titles or authors you find there that you'd like me to include.

I've also listed the demo batch of books from the Open Library, sponsored by the Open Content Alliance. These are high-quality book scans presented through a nice page-turning interface, with unrestricted access. I hope to see more soon.

Before long, you'll also be seeing many more books from various academic-sponsored literature projects, which will be the first subjects of the bulk loading tools we're developing.

As this index crosses the 25,000-title threshold (with Amelia Edwards' A Thousand Miles Up the Nile), we know there are many more books on the Web now or imminently. We're looking forward to indexing a lot more of them, and expect we'll be adding the next 5000 titles (and quite possibly the next 25,000 titles) considerably more quickly than the last 5000.

It's a good time to be a reader. Enjoy!

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

October 3, 2005

The newest entry into the mass-book-digitization movement, the Open Content Alliance, announced its plans yesterday. Their plan is to focus on public domain materials and publisher-licensed materials, and make them as open as possible. In particular, they're happy to let others index and replicate public domain books in their collection. As Brewster Kahle puts it, "Let the public domain stay public." Partners include Yahoo, the Internet Archive, the University of California, the University of Toronto, the Prelinger Archives, the National Archices of the UK, and O'Reilly.

They plan to start with a few thousand public domain American literature volumes from the University of California, and hope to scale up to millions of books, audio recordings, and movies. I wish them the best of success, and hope to see (and index!) their materials soon.

September 22, 2005

Just one generation ago, the movie studios were up in arms about a new technology known as the video-cassette recorder. Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, testified to Congress in 1982 that "the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone." A movie studio sued Sony for manufacturing and selling the Betamax, the first widely marketed VCR. The case went all the way up to the Supreme Court, which in a 5-4 decision finally made it clear that using a VCR to tape TV shows was fair use. The decision not only legitimized the new consumer technology, and all the benefits it brought to the public, but also ended up helping those same movie studios earn billions of dollars from the home video market that the VCR enabled.

It's worth remembering that case when thinking about the lawsuit filed yesterday against Google by the Author's Guild, for digitizing copyrighted books from libraries and making them searchable online. (Although the books are searchable, no more than a handful of sentence-sized snippets can be read online, unless the book is in the public domain or the publishers give permission for more to be viewable.)

Once again, the issue boils down to fair use in a new application that could greatly benefit the public and bring new revenues and other benefits to copyright holders. While this particular issue has not yet been decided in court, and various legal scholars have taken both sides of the issue, Google has what looks like a good case for fair use both for the service itself and for the digitization necessary to provide it. In the actual service, the snippets provided to readers are very small, cannot reasonably substitute for access to the entire work, and will probably have a net-positive effect for the market for the work. The digitization, not unlike the complete home taping of a TV show, is not distributed, and is the minimum necessary to support the ultimate use-- in this case, full-text searching to identify books one may wish to track down and read.

Even when full text is not available online to the public, as it is in the books listed here at The Online Books Page, simply providing the ability to search a vast library of materials can do a lot to help people find books that would be useful to them, and then read them by checking them out of a library or buying them. The resulting purchases by libraries and consumers could potentially mean a lot more revenue for authors, publishers, and other copyright holders.

Which is why I'm hoping for an outcome that supports the Google Library project. While a Betamax-style court ruling affirming that providing a full-text search engine for copyrighted books is fair use would be one such favorable outcome, and one that would set a useful precedent, a settlement based on such mutual understanding would be a lot less expensive for the Author's Guild and for Google, and I hope that the parties can come to such a settlement. (I especially hope that the academic groups that were making threatening noises against Google in the preceding months simmer down as well. Academics should be in the best positions to understand the benefits of liberal fair-use rights for education and research, and thus for creating the monographs that we write and that Google seeks to index.)

Congress may also be able to help here. One of the reasons the "opt in" policy favored by some publisher groups won't work particularly well for doing library-scale text searching is that copyright holders of many older books are now unreachable, and their books are out of print, but still of interest to some readers and researchers. Enacting reasonable rules for the reuse of "orphaned works", the recent subject of hearings by the Library of Congress, would make it easier for indexers like Google and publishers to come to workable, amicable arrangements for applications like Google Print. It would also enable neglected works to more easily benefit and educate readers around the world. Congress also has the power to more clearly note fair-use exemptions in the area of search indexing, which would make it easier both for this project and for other search applications-- including those we use regularly-- to operate without fear of unwarranted legal action.

I'm also looking forward to a lot of public domain material soon being made freely readable in full online via the Google Lihrary project and other mass-digitization efforts mentioned in this forum. I hope that the public-domain side of the Google Print service can continue unabated even as this lawsuit continues.

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

August 25, 2005

The editor of this site is taking a vacation for the end of the summer. There will be no updates to the site (or only minimal ones) between tonight and September 7. But he leaves you behind with many books to choose from on the existing site. We'll be back with lots more new listings in September!

August 17, 2005

The Online Books Page, and other Penn Library web servers, will be unavailable for several hours on Saturday, August 20, while upgrades are made to the Penn Library's electrical system.

So select your online weekend reading in advance, and have a good weekend! We've been adding lots of books lately, and may well be picking up the pace substantially over the next few months.

April 28, 2005

Several projects have now been announced to digitize millions of titles and put them online for free access. We're hoping that these will see fruition in the next few years, and are working behind the scenes to try to accommodate them.

The latest such initiative, announced by 19 European national libraries (see Deutsche Welle story) pledges support for a European project to "safeguard literature". As of yet, the project has not been formally funded, but the story implies an interest in building on smaller-scale projects like Gallica, run by France's national library

This joins the already-underway Google Library Project, which already plans to digitize millions of volumes from 5 libraries in the US and the UK, and make the public domain titles freely readable online. Before this, Carnegie Mellon University had announced the Million Book Project, which so far has scanned about 10,000 volumes using scanners in India, China, and elsewhere.

We welcome these initiatives, firmly believing "the more, the merrier" when it comes to putting books online for free. While we haven't been listing many new titles lately, we have been working behind the scenes to upgrade our infrastructure to handle the much higher volume of books online that these projects may produce. The first visible sign of these upgrades has been in our browsing interfaces, which now show slices out of the collection, and provide some new tools for getting quickly to the slices you want, instead of simply outputting everything that begins with a given letter all at once. Also planned are upgrades to our search, as well as new facilities for bulk-loading large chunks of cataloging information via technologies like OAI and similar initiatives. (Our first round of upgrades also included new facilities for automated output; see, for instance, our RSS feed for new additions.)

It will take a while for these mass digitization projects to bear fruit. And the demands of high-quantity projects might not produce the best experience at first. Google Print, for instance, currently restricts access outside the US even to titles that are public domain outside the US, and within the US they put up some roadblocks to printing and saving images even to public domain titles. Gallica's interface might not be the easiest to use for non-French speakers, or for folks who don't use the Adobe Reader plugin to load books a page at a time. The Million Book Project also has to work out quality control issues with respect to its scans, metadata, and interface.

But the books are coming, and hopefully over time the reading experience will improve. We hope to continue to provide one-stop easy access to the best offerings of both these massive projects and countless smaller initiatives as well. Like the large projects, we will undoubtedly have to struggle to balance quantity and quality, and bulk-loaded cataloging information is probably not going to be as good in some ways as the manually cataloged entries we've accumulated to date, at least initially. We welcome suggestions and assistance in our attempts to provide the best access to lots of books with minimal overhead.

We're quite excited about the future, and hope you are too. May your reading choices be enjoyable and plentiful!

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

October 16, 2003

Project Gutenberg announced yesterday that it had reached its long-standing goal of releasing 10,000 free titles to the Internet, and that it would soon also release a DVD of most of these titles.

Founded in 1971 by Michael Hart, and built and maintained by hundreds of volunteers, Project Gutenberg is the longest-running project producing and distributing online books. It's also one of the Net's largest and best-known such projects. Its mission, according to its stated history and philosophy, is to "make information, books and other materials available to the general public in forms a vast majority of the computers, programs and people can easily read, use, quote, and search."

Gutenberg's output has expanded greatly recently, with half of the 10,000 titles released in the last 18 months. Much of the surge has been due to the work of the Distributed Proofreaders project, the Gutenberg Radio project for computer-generated audio editions, and Gutenberg Australia, the first of what may be several non-US-based Gutenberg branches. (The surge has been strong enough that The Online Books Page has fallen a few months behind in listing Gutenberg titles, but we hope to close this gap before long.) Along with new releases, Gutenberg has also re-released a number of older titles with new formats and corrections from volunteers, which the project is always interested in receiving.

Michael Hart, still directing the project after 32 years, also announced that nearly all of these titles would be released on a single DVD shortly. (The only titles left off would be the human genome data and the audio books, for space reasons, and the Gutenberg Australia releases, for copyright reasons.)

With its original goal now met, Gutenberg has no intention of slowing down. Michael Hart ultimately hopes that all public domain books (and as many copyrighted books as possible) will eventually be available through Gutenberg, and is now contemplating what milestones to aim for next.

Congratulations to Project Gutenberg and all its volunteers! And I look forward to seeing title #1,000,000 someday.

June 30, 2003

In June of 1993, 10 years ago this month, I announced the CMU School of Computer Science web site to the world. Among the pages on the new site was a page linking to a few places you could find books on the Net.

The original announcement that went out to the Net didn't even mention the books page. It was just another page on a departmental web site. It had a few links to some books that Robert Stockton, a collegue of mine, had adapted for the Web from Project Gutenberg. And it had a few links to Project Gutenberg's main FTP site, and some other book FTP and Gopher sites. Gutenberg itself had fewer than 100 books, but its founder was claiming that they'd have over 10,000 before long. Most folks, myself included, found it hard to believe there'd be that many online in the foreseeable future.

Within a year or so, it was clear that this books page wasn't just going to be just another web page. People wanted a one-stop site for looking up titles and authors; I obliged. (Not a big deal, I thought, with fewer than 100 books per site.) Then they started sending me information about more books I should list. I soon had to go to a database, which I figured would hold things for a while. (My database program originally had an upper limit of 10,000 titles; I figured I wasn't likely to exceed that any time soon.)

As more books went online, new issues arose. Proposals to censor the Net emerged at the university, and then in the government: I started Banned Books Online to alert folks of what this could mean for online books and for free expression in general. Copyright law also shifted over the years, becoming more and more restrictive just as the Net was making the benefits of free online books apparent to citizens at large. So I started to gather information about copyright, and pass along messages urging copyright reform, and trying to organize folks producing and using online books. The Book People list was one of the results.

"Where are the women?" a friend of mine asked one day, enraged that the early offerings of the Net, like those in the typical unversity "canon" were nearly all male. Thus did Mary Mark begin A Celebration of Women Writers, as a partner site to mine. (In the years to follow, we'd also become partners in marriage and parenthood too. We're happy to report that both of our kids are already enthusiastically picking up the books that are all around the house, though we haven't let them at the scanner yet.)

Despite my "day job" being computer science, the site was rapidly pulling me toward the library world. Not long after graduation, then, I was happy to take up Penn's offer to work in their library designing digital library programs and projects. And, yes, as time permitted, continuing to develop The Online Books Page.

At the 10-year mark, we now have 20,000 active listings of freely readable books and serials. I'm also very pleased to report that, the same day we hit 20,000 listings overall, we also reached 4,000 listings of books by women. 20% might not seem like much, but back when Mary started the Celebration, the figure wasn't much more than 10%. Over 200 of these books were put up by Mary herself, many with help from her Build-a-Book collarborators, on the Celebration website. And I think that her site has helped inspire many other folks to put up books by women as well, which we've subsequently listed.

Several thousand more books are online, just waiting to be listed. (OAI technology and database upgrades I'll be installing later this year, as soon as I get a bit more Spare Time[tm], should speed up these listings considerably.) Gutenberg alone now has more than 8,000 etexts of various sizes, and is on track to have 10,000 within the year. And many other sites are now breaking new ground in online books, such as the Distributed Proofreaders high-volume book production, the California eScholarship initiative putting recent scholarly works online, or the Internet Public Library's online listings and services, just to name a few.

People occasionally write to me to thank me for all these books, apparently under the impression that I'm responsible for putting them up. But actually, I've produced almost none of them. I've tried my best to be a catalyst and guide for these online books, but without all you folks producing, reading, and sharing these books online, my site would still be a little static web page, rather than one of many gateways to an ever-growing library online.

Thank you all for your work, your sharing, and your reading. And I'm looking forward to many more things to celebrate in many more anniversaries to come.

John Mark Ockerbloom
Editor, The Online Books Page

June 29, 2003

Two new bills introduced in the US Congress this past week aim to increase public access to literature.

HR 2601, the Public Domain Enhancement Act, would require that the owners of copyrighted works from the US more than 50 years old file with the Copyright Office and pay a nominal fee ($1 in the bill as proposed) in order to keep the copyright in force. Works not so renewed would fall into the public domain. The documentation included with the fee would also make it easier for folks who wanted to get permissions for older works that remain in copyright to find the current owners of the copyright.

I encourage folks in the US to write their legislators asking them to support and co-sponsor this bill. This will be needed to get it out of committee and passed into law. It could allow many more books that are no longer commercially exploited to be reused and put online by the public, while not putting undue burdens on those that want to keep their copyrights on older work. Potentially, this bill could thus undo much of the damage of recent copyright extensions. For more information, see eldred.cc. (You can sign an online petition there in favor of the Act; for maximum effect, though, write your Congressfolk personally as well.)

Another bill, HR 2613, would place in the public domain research articles produced by certain federally funded research projects. Although these projects are funded by taxpayer dollars, the reports they produce are often far out of reach of the public, published in subscription journals that in some cases can cost more than $19,000 per year for a single subscription! The intent of this bill is to make this work freely readable by all, to advance the progress of science and medicine around the world. (I haven't yet seen a text for this bill, but look up HR 2613 at thomas.loc.gov in the next few days.) Much of the groundwork for this bill has been laid by the Public Library of Science project.

With or without this bill, academic researchers have been increasingly resisting a system in which they write and review articles for free, and then their institutions have to buy them back from for-profit publishers at exorbitant prices. In response, a number of scholarly, peer-reviewed journals now provide their content free for all to read, either immediately, or after a short delay. In the coming weeks, we'll be listing many such journals in the Serials section of The Online Books Page, when these journals are tracked by major universities, and have at least a year's worth of content permanently and freely available for all to read. I hope that scholars will increasingly support and write for these journals, both to relieve the financial pressure on their own institutions paying ever-larger serials fees, and to share their knowledge with the world.

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

January 15, 2003

In a 7-2 decision, the US Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. Under this act, no copyrights on published works will expire into the public domain in the United States until 2019 at the earliest. The decision also makes it possible for those copyrights to be extended further before then. Among other things, this means that books published in 1923 or later may be indefinitely kept from being posted online in the US.

The official Supreme court decision (including the two dissents) is available in PDF on the Supreme Court Website.

The decision does not prevent Congress itself from reconsidering its stance on copyrights, or artists from volunteering to contribute their works to the public (whether through public domain status or through licenses like those suggested by the Creative Commons). I hope that folks who care about publicly available online books will continue to encourage their availability through channels like these.

Somewhat belatedly, I should note one small bright spot in recent US copyright developments: for the first time in US law, copyrights to a large volume of old unpublished material entered the public domain here at the start of 2003. The US Copyright Office has an explanation of what's now available.

Also, in many other countries, a year's worth of copyrights (both for published and unpublished works) expired at the start of 2003. In the European Union and other "life+70" countries, copyrights of authors who died in 1932 expired. In Canada and other "life+50" countries, copyrights of authors who died in 1952 expired.

For more information about copyrights and permissions around the world, see this page.

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

February 20, 2002

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by Eric Elred and other public-domain advocates challenging the retrospective aspects of the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. (Here's more information on the case, from the plaintiffs.)

The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to "promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries". The plaintiffs argue that progress of science and arts is not promoted when works that have already been created and published are delayed from entering the public domain. Copyright creates incentives for authors and other artists to create and publish new works. But, the plaintiffs argue, once a work has been introduced to the public under an established rule of copyright terms, further extensions to its copyright term can't provide additional incentive for something that has already happened. (It's even harder to argue that such extensions can provide any new incentives to authors who are no longer alive-- the new extensions almost always only apply long after an author has died.) Instead, the extensions stop works from entering the public domain, where the progress of science and the arts would be promoted by having the works freely distributed, performed, and reused in new works. Furthermore, the repeated extension of existing copyright terms means that the Constitution's "limited Times" could be effectively unlimited, as copyrights about to expire could continue to be extended in this manner indefinitely. Hence, the plaintiffs conclude, retrospective extensions of copyright are unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court accepts only a small fraction of the cases brought to it. Its acceptance of the Eldred case instantly put the battle over copyright and the public domain into the public spotlight. Should the plaintiffs prevail, thousands of books and other works, everything from overlooked classics of Harlem Renaissance poetry to widely-loved books like Winnie-the-Pooh, would immediately become eligible for going online. Interests on both sides of the case will now be drawing up arguments and amicus briefs, in preparation for the hearings later this year.

A related case, Golan vs. Ashcroft, is also challenging the constitutionality of the 1994 GATT copyright restorations, the only time Congress has actually removed materials from the public domain and put them back into copyright. Those restorations have also made it extremely difficult to verify the copyright status of most works of foreign origin published between 1923 and 1964. The case is currently in district court, and the Supreme Court's eventual ruling of the Eldred case will undoubtedly affect its outcome.

Major developments in these cases will be reported at this site; for day-to-day developments, or to collaborate on the appeal, check the OpenLaw site at Harvard. If the judges do find in favor of the public domain, we will be very happy to list any newly freed books at this site.

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

February 1, 2002

Two large collections of American 19th-century literature are now available freely for all. When complete, they will add more than 10,000 new online books for readers to enjoy.

At Michigan, the Making of America books collection now has over 8,500 titles, or about 7000 more than existed when this collection was first indexed by The Online Books Page in 1997. This collection focuses on American social history from the pre-Civil War period through reconstruction.

Meanwhile, at Indiana, the Wright American Fiction collection is putting up what will eventually be more than 3000 books of American fiction, or nearly every significant novel published in the United States between 1851 and 1875. About half of the collection is online at this point, with the rest in preparation.

Both collections are listed in the Archives section of this site, and eventually all of the qualifying books will be listed individually in The Online Books Page indexes as well. Because of the large size of these collections, we intend to implement automated methods to catalog these collections, using facilities such as the Open Archives Initiative to collect records, rather than relying on the slower manual indexing we've done to date for other sites.

Setting up the appropriate automation is a bit complicated, and requires some upgrades of our system, so you might not see the start of large-scale listings from these collections for a while yet. However, these upgrades should allow us to finish listing these collections much faster than we otherwise could.

Also, we may be adding small parts of these collections to our listings as readers request. If you ask me whether a particular book from the 19th century is online, or if it could be put online, I do check these collections, and list their copy of the book if I find it there. Additionally, if there are particular titles from either collection that you'd especially like to see listed here, let me know the individual titles and URLs, and I'll do my best to get them listed individually as soon as I can manage, even before the rest of the collection is bulk-loaded.

Thank you for your patience, and I hope you enjoy the collections, and the other online books we list here!

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

January 19, 2001

The American Library Association has announced that it will take legal action to fight new US laws that require libraries to censor the Internet or lose eligibility for federal funds.

Passed in the last days of Congress as riders to an appropriations bill, two titles make eligibility for subsidized Internet access (paid for by taxes on American's phone bills), dependent on the installation of filters on all publicly accessible library and school computers. Even computers used solely by adults must be filtered, according to one of the new laws. Although the adult filtering is only required to remove obscenity, most commercial filtering programs now available censor far more information, including some of the on-line books listed at this site.

The ACLU will also be challenging the new laws. An earlier lawsuit against Loudon County, Virginia, in which the maintainer of this site participated, successfully struck down mandatory filtering in that county's libraries.

February 22, 2000

We are pleased to announce a new home at the University of Pennsylvania for the Celebration of Women Writers. The new top-level URL of the site is http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/ If you have URLs pointing to the old site at CMU, you can convert them to the new URLs simply by replacing whatever came before "women" with "http://digital.library.upenn.edu/". We will be phasing out the old URLs over time.

As with The On-Line Books Page, the new site should provide new opportunities for the Celebration to expand its offerings, both in the texts it offers and the browsing and searching options available. We hope that the on-line texts will be useful for teaching and reading at Penn and elsewhere. As always, all of the Celebration's editions are free to all readers on-line.

For more information on the project, and how you can help out, see the Celebration's main page.

October 6, 1999

Sometime in the last year, by my estimate, the 10,000th book went on-line. Last night, we got far enough caught up to add the 10,000th title to The On-Line Books Page index. (There are many more books besides, including thousands of titles in languages other than English.) On-line books continue to be added at the Net at what appears to be exponential growth. And I'm very happy and proud for the whole on-line book community.

(For the full post I made after we hit this milestone, see this post to the Book People list.)

I hope you enjoy this ever-growing resource. And I hope you'll help spread even more knowledge throughout the world in the years to come.

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

August 1, 1999

Welcome to the new home for the On-Line Books Page. This Web site, and its editor, have moved to the University of Pennsylvania's Digital Library. I'll be working here to research, plan, and develop digital library resources and technology, to benefit readers both at Penn and throughout the Internet.

At present, the site looks almost exactly the way it did at Carnegie Mellon. It will continue to provide an index of freely readable on-line books for the whole Internet. You should also see an increase in the rate that books are added, after the mostly dry spell in June and July while I was mostly off-Net. (There will, however, probably be another break when I go traveling in mid-August.) In the months and years to follow, we hope to enhance the site and its listings, integrate the listings here with the increasing resources of Penn's Digital Library, and experiment with new ways of finding and presenting books on-line. Because the site is likely to be revised over time, especially in the first few months here, I cannot at this time guarantee the persistence of URLs below the main page. The new main URL for the On-Line Books Page, http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/ should be stable, though, so I recommend making links and bookmarks to that URL.

I'm quite happy to have worked and studied with some wonderful people at Carnegie Mellon. Some of the resources related to the On-Line Books Page (such as the feedback address for this site, the Book People mailing list, and the Celebration of Women Writers) are still at CMU, but will be moving to new addresses shortly. Updates to those addresses will soon appear on this site. Other work on digital libraries continues at Carnegie Mellon; see the Universal Library Project there for what some of my colleagues are developing there.

I'm very excited about researching and developing digital libraries at Penn. I'm also very grateful for the support of the whole Internet community in building up this resource. I hope that you'll visit this site often and check out the new and old books, and be involved in supporting it. I'd especially like to hear your feedback and suggestions as this site evolves here at Penn.

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

January 12, 1999

Today Eldritch Press filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop the enforcement of the recent Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in the United States, claiming it violates the US Constitution. The act, passed last October, effectively froze the public domain in the United States for 20 years for published materials.

Eldritch Press, run by Eric Eldred, was represented by the Berkman Foundation and the law firm Hale and Dorr, including Harvard law school professors Larry Lessig and Charles Nesson. Their argument is that the pattern of copyright extensions, especially when given to works already published, does not conform to the authority the Constitution gives to Congress for copyrights, namely "promot[ing] the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times... the exclusive Right to... Writings and Discoveries".

For more information on the suit, see the complaint and the press release from Eldritch Press. More information about the case, and an opportunity to join a coalition in support of it, will appear at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/eldredvreno/.

If the courts rule in favor of the plaintiffs, all works from 1923, will enter the public domain in the United States, and the public domain would continue to grow further every year. This will make many more books available for free on-line (and off-line) use.

If the development of the lawsuit warrants it, the On-Line Books Page may adjust its listing policy appropriately. At present, until the court takes action, the listing policy of the On-Line Books Page remains the same. (That is, we will only list 1923 works on US sites whose copyright expired early, that are on-line with the permission of the presumed copyright holder, or that are on-line in accordance with the "Libraries and Archives" exemption for certain out-of-print works.) As usual, watch this space, or the Book People mailing list, for the latest developments.

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

Update: (July 30): More parties have gotten involved in the case on both sides. You can see the latest filings by both sides at this site. You might also find the related Copyright's Commons site, and OpenLaw of interest. The latter site is experimenting with crafting legal arguments in public forums. Interested parties are invited to participate.

January 6, 1999

Two sheet music projects have now placed over 25,000 pieces of sheet music from the 19th and early 20th century on-line.

The Library of Congress' Music for the Nation is a comprehensive exhibit of sheet music for 22,000 compositions registered for copyright between 1870 and 1879. (By late this year, they plan to advance to 1885, adding another 23,000 titles.)

Duke's Historic American Sheet Music has over 3,000 pieces covering the time period from 1850-1920.

I link to both collections from my Archives page, though I have no plans to list individual sheet music titles at this time. It's exciting to see large, comprehensive collections like these appearing for certain media, and I'm hopeful that the time is coming soon when there will be tens of thousands of text-based titles coming on-line every year as well. Watch this space, or the Book People mailing list, for the latest developments.

January 5, 1999

The new year brought a new year's worth of public domain books to most countries outside the United States. In Canada, and other countries following the basic Berne Convention, books by authors who died in 1948 are now in the public domain. In the UK and other European Union countries, most of which actually rolled back the public domain a few years back, books by authors who died in 1928 have returned to the public domain.

In the United States, while the recently passed copyright extension bill prevented remaining 1923 copyrights from expiring this year, we are still trying to provide information that will allow people to put obscure works from 1923 on-line for the first time this year. Our Catalog of Copyright Entries Page now has all the renewal records for books published in 1923. Also, a provision in the Copyright Extension bill allows libraries and archives to distribute out of print copyrighted works in their last 20 years of copyright (under certain conditions). This provision has now gone into effect for copyrighted works from 1923, as of January 1. The Copyright Office now has a Web page describing the new law and their interim regulations. As time passes, we hope to provide more information at this site as well.

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

October 28, 1998

The copyright extension bill mentioned in the October 9 news item is now law, having been signed by President Clinton on October 27. This will prevent books published in 1923 and later that are not already in the public domain from entering the public domain in the United States for at least 20 years.

I have started a page to provide access to copyright renewal records, which eventually should make it easier to find books published after 1922 that have entered the public domain due to nonrenewal. I welcome contributions of additional records, in page image, text, or HTML format.

Although the bill has become law, I would encourage readers to speak loudly in support of the public domain. Congressional testimony indicates that some in the entertainment industry favor even longer copyright periods, effectively preventing anything further from ever entering the public domain. Your voice is needed to help stop this from happening.

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

October 9, 1998

I regret to have to pass on the news that as of Wednesday evening, both the US House of Representatives and the Senate passed legislation to extend existing copyrights an additional 20 years. President Clinton has previously expressed support for copyright extension, so a veto is highly unlikely, despite the musical licensing riders that were attached to the bill. You can still send your letters to the President, but I expect that the bill will most likely become law sometime in the next few days.

This bill does not re-copyright any works that are already in the public domain. However, it extends nearly all US copyrights that are still in force for another 20 years.

For more information on the bill, and what can be done now, see my post to the Book People mailing list.

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

September 21, 1998

The Build-A-Book Project, sponsored by the Celebration of Women Writers, is back for a second season. Last year, scores of Build-A-Book volunteers collaborated on putting 19 books on-line, on a variety of topics.

Three books are currently in the works, with more planned through the spring. If you've been interested in getting involved in putting books on-line, the Build-A-Book project can be a useful introduction on learning how to do it without having to commit to a whole book right away. To participate, see the instructions on this page.

June 1, 1998

Along with books, The On-Line Books Page is now also listing particularly significant archives of major serials: namely, permanent, freely accessible archives of magazines, journals, and newspapers covering listing major archives of serials (such as magazines, published journals, and newspapers).

Serials can be at least as important as books in library research. Serials are often the first places that new research and scholarship appear. They are sources for firsthand accounts of contemporary events and commentary, They are also often the first (and sometimes the only) place that quality literature appears.

The On-Line Books Page will list major serial archives in much the same way as it lists ordinary books. They appear in the title, subject, and new items listings intermingled with books. They also have listing criteria similar to the listing criteria used for books.

The first listings will appear on June 1, and continue to grow over time. Please let me know of serial archives meeting my criteria that I should be listing. I hope readers find them useful!

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

April 7, 1998

The US House of Representatives has passed a bill that would extend all copyrights now in force for an additional 20 years. If the bill became law, older books not already in the public domain would not enter the public domain until 95 years after they were first published.

Now the bill just has to clear the Senate to be sent to the President, who is expected to sign the bill into law if it is sent to him. According to a telephone interview with Troy Dow, the Senate does not plan to hold hearings for this bill, and is expected to vote on it this spring. Unless Senators hear objections from their constituents, it is likely that no further copyrights will expire into the public domain in the United States until at least 2019. Not only would this hurt the availability of free on-line books and other free uses of literature, but it would also hinder the creation of new works from old material.

If you do not want this bill to pass, contact your Senators now. For more information on this bill and other issues, see our free press section.

Update: I have recently learned that the copyright extension bill passed by the House included an additional section that would allow bar and restaurant owners to play the radio or TV without paying royalties. This additional section is strongly opposed by ASCAP and other lobbying groups, and might be enough to stop the bill this year. But the fate of copyright extension this year (and in future years) is still uncertain, so contact your senators to make your voice heard as well.

March 27, 1998

It's appropriate that Women's History Month should be the time a new milestone is set for the Celebration of Women Writers. This month, we listed the 1000th on-line title that a woman wrote, edited, translated, illustrated, or otherwise contributed to.

Women wrote a large number of books, on a wide variety of topics, throughout history, but their contributions are all too often forgotten. While books by women remain in the minority of books on-line, the Celebration is working both to get more books on-line, and raise awareness of the contributions made by women writers. Along with the book links, the Celebration has well over 2000 links to pages with biographical material on women writers, and can be browsed by author, by country, and by time period. You're invited to take part in this project. See Getting Involved for details.

January 5, 1998

Thanks to a Congressional recess, consideration of a new US copyright extension bill was put off until 1998. That meant that another year's worth of copyrights went into the public domain on schedule on New Year's Day. As of 1998, copyrights for works published in 1922 have expired in the United States.

Works also went into the public domain in most other countries. In the European Union, where a retroactive copyright extension law re-copyrighted 20 years worth of public domain works a couple of years back, works by authors who died in 1927 rejoined the public domain. In most of the rest of the world, works by authors who died in 1947 entered the public domain.

A few 1922 works (and some other works) have been added to the On-Line Books Page listings today. More will follow when I return in mid-January.

My thanks to those who wrote asking Congress not to rush copyright extension bills through. Congress reconvenes this month, and the House Judiciary Committee is still considering the copyright extension bills, and could schedule hearings at any time. If you would like to encourage Congress not to extend copyright terms to unreasonable lengths, now is the time to write. See pages by Dennis Karjala and Dennis McCarthy for more information.

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

December 12, 1997

The Build-A-Book Project has released its first title, Dorothy Canfield Fisher's Understood Betsy. The book was typed, scanned in, and proofread by a dozen volunteers, all working on different parts of the book.

The Build-A-Book Project, sponsored by the Celebration of Women Writers, lets people work collaboratively on putting books on-line. It can be a useful introduction for people who are interested in helping put books on-line, but don't feel ready to handle an entire book on their own.

Several other books are in the works. If you would like to participate, see this page. If you'd like to work on a chapter over the holidays, please be sure your email reaches us by December 20.

October 21, 1997

Two bills have been recently introduced in Congress that would seriously weaken the public domain, the source of the majority of the books now available on-line free of charge. Both appear to be placed on a "fast track", so stopping them will require rapid action.

The first is a revision to the copyright law that would extend all copyrights now in force for an additional 20 years (long past the lifetimes of the authors that copyright was designed to encourage). This would keep older works out of the public domain for nearly a century after publication. Copyright extension bills have been proposed for the last couple of years, and have generally not gotten past the subcommittee hearings stage. However, this one has apparently already passed through the subcommittee without hearing, and is now in front of the full House Judiciary Committee, with a nearly identical bill now in the Senate as well. For full information on the bill, why it's harmful, and what can be done to stop it, see Professor Dennis Karjala's Opposing Copyright Extension page.

The second bill is a "database protection bill" being pushed by a few big database companies to put certain public domain materials under intellectual property controls. Unlike the bill above, which would simply freeze the public domain for at least 20 years, this would effectively remove material already belonging to the public from the public domain. It would take away a right that the public has had up till this time to freely use factual information. This too could seriously hurt the dissemination of knowledge. A critical report on the bill, including the full text, can be found in this Hyperlaw report.

For more information about what you can do to help the free electronic press, see our new free press page.

October 10, 1997

I've been working on redesigning and extending the Celebration of Women Writers pages for several months now, during which time there haven't been any updates to the site. Well, the new version is finally up and running, and I hope you'll check it out! The name and location of the top-level file are the same [...]

The listing was already large, and one of the things I wanted to do was to substantially *extend* the authors, so the new site provides separate author pages for each letter of the ALPHABET.

Another new feature is listings by COUNTRY. There are particularly good resources for Mexico and Israel, where government-sponsored sites are listing authors, and for African writers (these are listed in their individual countries.) I'm still working on indexing resources from some other large sites, so lots of new links will continue to appear in the next couple of weeks.

When we have time, in a month or two, we intend to provide search as well as browse capabilities, to generate listings using names, dates, & country.

Obviously, in a reimplementation and expansion like this, errors are likely to have crept in, so if you find incorrect information, or bad links, please send me information!

We also hope you'll get involved in a new project we're starting to collaboratively build on-line books. So do consider reading the Get Involved section! I may post in more detail about this next week, but for now, I'll let you go and explore the new pages! We're very excited about them, and hope you'll enjoy them!

Best wishes,
Mary Mark Ockerbloom
(Editor, A Celebration of Women Writers)

October 1, 1997

Giving away on-line books is good for the bottom line. That's what some on-line publishers are now saying, in the Washington Post (September 30), and in the Chronicle of Higher Education (September 12, summarized in Edupage). National Academy Press, for instance, has so far put over 1700 of its books on-line, and reports sales boosts of up to 2 or 3 times previous levels for some titles. MIT Press reports similar results. Publishers cite the exposure available on the Web as "great advertising" for the books, attracting readers who ordinarily would not have bought or even heard of the books. Readers may browse the book on-line, but if they want to read the whole thing, most prefer print, say the publishers. So, many of them hit the online "order" button, or dial the phone number provided on the Web pages to order a print copy. The result? The best of both worlds: more books available on-line, and more sales. Or, as Calvin Reid of Publishers Weekly put it in the Post, "Posting books online invariably leads the reader back to print."

September 4, 1997

More and more books are being made available on the Net, as the on-line library of the Internet starts to approach the size and scale of many physical libraries. We indexed our 5000th title on Monday, and the influx of titles on all subjects shows no signs of letting up any time soon.

A large portion of the on-line books on the Net have been prepared by Project Gutenberg, the oldest and one of the best-known electronic text projects going. They've just posted their 1000th etext today. Their goal is to make 10,000 texts freely available worldwide in common, easily downloadable formats by the year 2001. They're always welcoming volunteers and donations; write hart@pobox.com if you'd like to join their effort.

August 25, 1997

Over the last couple of weeks, and continuing into September, we're listing the extensive Making of America collection from the University of Michigan Digital Library. This collection includes page images for over 1000 books from the latter part of the 19th century in the US. Some of the titles are familiar, but many more are comparatively rare and previously inaccessible without access to major research libraries.

The collection lets readers view 19th-century America as seen by the people who lived there. Major issues and controversies of the day are well-represented, such as slavery and secession, westward expansion, religious controversies, women's rights, immigration, and political campaigns. Readers will also find works of poetry, economics, science, education, etiquette, and regional information. Authors include well-known authors like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, and Horace Greeley; celebrities of the day like P. T. Barnum, Buffalo Bill, and General Custer; as well as many other writers who helped shape culture in their time.

Because of the large volume of the collection, we'll be indexing the Making of America books and books from other sources on separate days. This should help people looking through the new books listing find what they want more easily.

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor

July 20, 1997

Welcome to the redesigned On-Line Books Page. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be phasing in new versions of the On-Line Books Page and sub-pages, to make the site more useful to readers.

I'm stressing these qualities in the redesign:

There's still more to come, like redesigns and renovations of some of our special features areas. More details as these come closer to appearing on-line.

As with any construction project, there will be some dust and detours as things are broken in, and as we see how well the new features work out. If you have comments or suggestions about the new design, or want to help, I'd love to hear from you! Write spok+books@cs.cmu.edu.

Happy reading!

John Mark Ockerbloom, Editor


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