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Issue: "California's wall of fire," Nov. 8, 2003

Michael Hart typed the Declaration of Independence on a computer in 1971 and started a publishing revolution. It was the dawn of Project Gutenberg, a massive effort that distributes books online. Last month, it issued its 10,000th volume.

Mr. Hart realized 32 years ago that people can make unlimited copies of any text once it is digitized. This motivated him to type out books for free distribution. Since then, millions of his e-text editions have spread around the world.

Find a classic book online today and the text probably came from Project Gutenberg. While an e-book may be hard to read on a screen, it can be easily searched, browsed, or quoted via cut and paste.

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Over the years, Project Gutenberg has issued a valuable cross-section of Western thought. Mr. Hart's first major tasks were the King James Bible and the Works of Shakespeare. Later releases range from Aristotle to Alice in Wonderland. Every title is in the public domain and can be distributed freely. (A similar project exists that specializes in Christian books. The Christian Classics Ethereal Library-ccel.org -distributes works from Calvin's Commentaries to the Nicene Fathers.)

Project Gutenberg's influence on the Net is wide. It helped give the Internet its image as the world's greatest research project.

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