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Many of you will have heard of Project Gutenberg, offering over 38,000 free electronic versions of books now considered in the public domain in the USA.

What I hadn’t been aware of was that there was an Australian version, Project Gutenberg Australia.

I’m not a lawyer, but searching this summary of copyrights throughout the world hosted by the University of Pennsylvania library, my reading is that

New Zealand copyright expires 50 years after the death of the author

Australian copyright holds for longer than in New Zealand. Australian copyright currently has as public domain books published before 1955. In 2005 they moved from copyright holding until 50 years after the death of the author to 70 years after the death of the author for new works. Rather than re-capture the copyright of works falling between the two, they have rolled back until 2025 the data that books whose authors died in 1955 or later will be freed.

As for the USA, let’s just say it’s more complicated. You can read it for yourself!

So… if I am reading correctly, and anyone is welcome to advise me that I’m not, New Zealand readers are free to draw from Project Gutenberg Australia.

Their collection is much smaller than the USA site, at ‘only’ 2,000 titles but frankly if you can’t find something to read from 2,000 books you’re trouble. You can browse their collection by title or author, or search their holdings.

Searching ‘science fiction’ I found H.G. Well’s The Wild Asses of the Devil. Goodness what that’s about, but the title is, um, striking. There’s also Planetoid 127, written in 1927, by Edgar Wallace.

There’s a list of their sci-fi titles, too. (The list includes fantasy and related genres.)

Those like science history could try John White’s Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales. This covers from 1790-. The cover announces grandly that John White was the Surgeon General to the Settlement; his work is substitled as being ’with sixty-five plates of non descript animals, birds, lizards, serpents, curious cones of trees and other natural productions.’

Now I’m going to wrap up a little gardening before getting back to my own reading…

Footnote

My thanks to Colin Choat of Project Gutenberg Australia for his lightening quick response and pointing me to the University of Pennsylvania page on book copyrights.

Other articles on Code for life for readers:

The best places to read

The best places to read

Book review — The Poisoner’s Handbook

Rebecca Skloot on writing creative non-fiction

What books do you think geeks should read?