image None other than Project Gutenberg founder Michael Hart has broached the topic of testing Google ads on at least some Gutenberg-related sites, and volunteers so far seem generally open to the idea.

What do you think? Google ads, as I see it, would be a positive if they helped keep Gutenberg sustainable, were done with taste, and came with full disclosure of the way the money was spent. The group should recognize Michael’s many years of dedicated service to Gutenberg and err on the side of generosity toward him, especially since he is at a time in life when his medical needs may soon grow. The important thing is to be open, not just about expenditures but also how they compare with those of similar organizations

PG trademark: Registered in Michael’s name by top lawyer with King estate and Disney among “representative” litigation clients—but read on for context

image Yet another improvement, as I see it, would be group ownership of the Project Gutenberg trademark, an integral part of the organization’s activities in the legal sense. That would simplify fundraising.

Notice the partial screenshot to the left from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office‘s records on the Web? In his personal name, Michael apparently registered the Gutenberg trademark with legal help from the office of William H. Brewster, a well-connected, well-regarded University of Virginia law grad in Atlanta whose specialties include intellectual property, and whose powerful firm, Kilpatrick Stockton, long ago secured the first federal registration for another brand name, none other than COCA-COLA. Among the firm’s “high profile clients,” going by a Wikipedia list, is Google, though I don’t see any connection with the ad proposal, just an indication of the caliber of Michael’s trademark-related connections.

Brewster’s “representative clients in litigated matters” have included not just the Martin Luther King estate (which copyrighted the “I have a dream” speech and, with Kilpatrick Stockton’s help, fought CBS’s use of the speech) but also the Walt Disney company (one of the key players in copyright term extension, although I don’t know if Brewster or Kilpatrick Stockton had or has a Disney connection in a copyright-term context).

On the other side of the coin, I  see that Kilpatrick Stockton as a firm was on the side of the angels in defending Houghton Mifflin’s planned publication of a parody of Gone with the Wind.  In fact, says Kilpatrick Stockton is “defending Google Inc. in the Southern District of New York in two high profile suits alleging that its Google Print Library Project infringes copyright laws.”

If Michael can take intellectual property matters so seriously at the personal level—I’m actually pleased that he has enjoyed such able trademark assistance and would not hold Kilpatrick Stockton’s Disney-type connections against him, especially with the Google and Houghton copyright cases to help balance that out—shouldn’t Project Gutenberg at the organizational level?

Friendly suggestion from a nonlawyer

Disclosure would be a good first step. I’d hope that Brewster would encourage Michael Hart to reveal on the Web the amount of money that Michael has personally earned from the trademark. For all I know, it could be $0. Just the same, in considering the Google advertising issue, it’s important for Gutenberg volunteers and others in the public domain community to know about the amount, or non-amount, of trademark-related revenue for Michael personally and also to discuss whether group ownership would simplify fund-raising.

Meanwhile here’s a link to some of the trademark information online—I’m not sure if the link is persistent. Any attorneys care to look up Gutenberg in the U.S. trademarks database and let us know about the nuances?

More on the role of the trademark

In a related vein, here is what Wikipedia says about Gutenberg as of this writing: “Most books in the Project Gutenberg collection are distributed as public domain under U.S. copyright law. The licensing included with each ebook puts some restrictions on what can be done with the texts (such as distributing them in modified form, or for commercial purposes) as long as the Project Gutenberg trademark is used. If the header is stripped and the trademark not used, then the public domain texts can be reused without any restrictions.”

If the trademark is so tied in with Gutenberg’s activities—we’re taking about the Coca-Cola of public domain brand names—why can’t the organization own it?

The estate issue and must-ask questions

Just what will be the fate of this valuable, all-important trademark after Michael dies, which I hope he doesn’t for many years? Will Gutenberg own and control it, and if not, then exactly who will? Can the exact wording of the provisions for transfer be made public, online?

Who has paid the legal fees for the current trademark, how much have the fees been, or did Brewster handle this as a pro bono service, which ideally could continue for Project Gutenberg as an organization? His firm in fact does have an interesting track record in the pro bono area.

In a civil way—civil as in “polite,” not “lawsuit”!—I’m going to call the current post to Bill Brewster’s attention and encourage him to answer the questions raised here and to work with Michael toward full disclosure on the Web about the current and future status of the trademark.

Wikpedia: The ad and the trademark angles of another Net-related nonprofit

Now, to return to the ad issue, here’s the inevitable question. Will Wikipedia be next with ads? With Wikipedia, the decision could be trickier since since it deals with so many contemporary issues affecting potential advertisers. Wikipedia’s credibility is high among Netfolks, and politicians, bureaucrats and corporate executives love to try to change items there. What happens if advertising enters the equation? I’d certainly prefer an ad-filled Wikipedia, however, over none at all, and as with Gutenberg, I wish the group all kinds of luck in coming up with solutions protective of both the integrity and sustainability of the organization.

For now, it’s reassuring to know that “Wikipedia” is in the name of the Wikimedia Foundation according to a notice at the bottom of Wikipedia pages (although the group does seem to have its own governance-related issues).

The probable attack from the misguided

Meanwhile don’t be surprised if I’m attacked directly or indirectly by some misguided Gutenberg supporters.

The big idea here, though, beyond endorsing the idea of ads, isn’t to harm Gutenberg and Michael—just the reverse. Rather I’m simply asking if Gutenberg might not be better off with a group-owned trademark to help assure its sustainability, especially after Michael dies.

Building bridges

With the trademark question out of the way, perhaps along with governance ones (the present board is rather skewed in favor of Hart friends from the University of Illinois), major philanthropies might well take more interest in Project Gutenberg, reducing the need for ads, even though I’d still hope Gutenberg would run them, given the advantages of diversifying revenue sources to avoid the need for donations with strings attached. Who knows? If Gutenberg can truly be assured of a stringless approach, maybe Kilpatrick Stockton and Brewster (2007 Chair of Major Gifts for the Atlanta Legal Aid Society) can assist in fund-raising.

Despite horrors such as corporately encouraged copyright term extension, Big Money actually should have an interest in the public domain—as shown by Google’s massive use of it, not to mention Disney’s mining of it for stories. The beauty of Gutenberg is that grassroots people, not corporations or institutions, choose what is digitized, thereby preserving material that might otherwise be neglected and might actually be of use to the Googles and Disneys in the future, not just humanity as a whole, the main objective. Proposals to deal better with the issue of orphaned works, expanding the range of material that Gutenberg and Distributed Proofreaders and similar organizations could put online, should make Gutenberg still more valuable as a group—all the more reason for Michael to care about these grubby lega
l issues, and for Kilpatrick Stockton to consider Gutenberg the group as a pro bono client and a beneficiary of fund-raising efforts.

Like Michael, I think the American system is too skewed in favor of corporations, and I would urge wariness in making alliances, but as long as he hooked up with Intellectual Property Central in filing personally for a trademark, he and the Project Gutenberg board would be foolish to overlook the possibilities here for Gutenberg as an organization.

Related: Project Gutenberg Progresses, in Informataion Today, which among other things quotes me on the trademark issue.

Disclosure: Just a reminder that I own a tiny speck of Google for retirement investment purposes. As readers know, I’ve never hesitated to knock Google on such issues as overbranded public domain books.


  1. The estate question is very important, but so are ongoing concerns. This was at the heart of the Project Gutenberg 2 controversy, where Hart approved using the PG trademark for a commercial venture. I’m not saying that was wrong, but given the decentralized nature of PG, the trademark issue creates obvious problems.

  2. Thanks for caring, Brian. Yes, we’ve also covered the PG2 controversy, where trademark indeed does figure as well.

    I can see a place for commercial ventures for PG, but not without full disclosure and input from people in the traditional group. Current volunteers shouldn’t be just cast aside.

    By the way, I’ve already followed through with my promise to write Michael’s high-powered trademark lawyer. Lest this be perceived as an anti-PG plot, which it isn’t, I concluded my note:

    “My own little cause is a well-stocked national digital library system with provisions for fair compensation of copyright holders. I see Project Gutenberg as a valuable way to complement TeleRead because of the ability of ordinary people to get books online via Gutenberg without corporate filters or the usual institutional ones.”


  3. I remember sometime ago you mentioned the possibility of advertising here on TeleRead, therefore I will aim my comments at both PG and yourself.

    I truly hope that Google Ads will NOT be used. Okay, for high traffic sites we can’t deny they bring in the money, but the question I want to ask you is this; have you ever seen a site using Google ads that looks nice? I’ve only ever seen one, and that was more interesting than nice.

    (I work as an Affiliate Manager, so I get to see a lot of affiliate sites.)

    My advice to both TeleRead and PG is to use text links, forget banners, forget Google Ads. In context, unobtrusive text links will keep your sites looking pretty and your visitors happy.

    It’s known within the affiliate business that text links work better so all you need to do is place an affiliate link on references to different products or sites; Sony Reader,, Amazon, etc. Your recent “Wide-screen monitors for e-books” article would be a perfect candidate.

    I guess for PG it would not be as easy as here, TeleRead often mentions products/sites, but perhaps they could hand-code their own adverts. Adding personal recommendations will bring huge benefits over generic ads.

  4. Mike, thanks for the feedback and for caring about this important issue. People seem rather accepting of the current ad for the Cybook Gen3 (anyone else disagree?), but, yes, I don’t want to go overboard with images.

    Please note that text links also can be ugly.

    As for PG, it has many many good points, but I don’t think design is one of the group’s strengths. Let’s hope PG shows restrain in use of the ads.


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