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 On July 4, 1971, the project was launched by Michael Hart, a student at the University of Illinois at Art. The school computer system was designed for free distribution. Typing Declaration of Independence established. He soon followed the writings of William Shakespeare and the Bible. The copyright of any book published before 1923 did not expire after 75 years, during which time it entered the public domain. Any work published between 1923 and 1977 holds its copyright for 95 years. Any work published in subsequent years expires 70 years after the death of the copyright author or 95 years after publication in the case of corporate work.

Over the next 20 years, Hart transcribed nearly 100 books before the spread of the Internet, causing widespread international interest. The project has hundreds and then thousands of volunteers worldwide and has undertaken more administrative tasks, including fundraising to maintain the Hart website. The number of public works scanned (the early 1990s) or gradually increased. Although there are versions in HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) or PDF (Portable Document Format) of Adobe Systems Incorporated for some works, all works are available in plain text using simple ASCII characters that do not have limited typography and images.

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