Thursday, September 15, 2011

Michael Stern Hart: Founder of Project Gutenberg: Advocate for the Spread of All Knowledge to All People

Jeffrey A. Tucker at Mises Daily has the story at The Inventor of the Digital Age.

Way back in 1971 Michael Stern Hart (March 8, 1947 — September 6, 2011), who passed away earlier this month, had a revelation at the University of Illinois while using the Internet that the digital age provided a means to make all knowledge available to everyone.

This revelation grew into Project Gutenberg, which today offers 36,000 free books. Indeed, Hart can be viewed as the inventor of the e-book.

As written at the Wikipedia:
"[T]he University of Illinois computer center gave Hart a user's account on its computer system.... Although the focus of computer use there tended to be data processing, Hart was aware that it was connected to a network (part of what would become the Internet) and chose to use his computer time for information distribution. Hart related that after his account was created on July 4, 1971, he had been trying to think of what to do with it and had seized upon a copy of the United States Declaration of Independence, which he had been given at a grocery store on his way home from watching fireworks that evening. He typed the text into the computer but was told that it would be unacceptable to transmit it to numerous people at once via e-mail.[5] Thus, to avoid crashing the system, he made the text available for people to download instead."
One can sort the digital world into three basic categories:
  • those who are ENABLING the spread of knowledge (e.g. Project Gutenberg, Wikipedia)
  • those who are HINDERING the spread of knowledge (e.g. Authors Guild, which opposes copying orphan works "pay or else", or Apple, Inc., "mine, mine, mine, all mine" )
  • those who want to MONOPOLIZE the blessings of the digital age (e.g. Apple, Inc.) and keep all PROFITS for themselves (e.g. Apple, Inc., J-STOR) and who arguably could care less about the spread of knowledge one way or the other, as long as THEIR bottom line adds up.
When we talk about reforming law and society -- anywhere in the world -- we should formulate our modern laws so as to make the world EASIER for the "enablers" and more DIFFICULT for those who are "hindering" the spread of knowledge or who are using the digital age primarily to stuff their own pockets.

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