Project Gutenberg blocks access from Germany

Martin Brinkmann
Mar 4, 2018
Updated • Mar 4, 2018

Internet users from Germany who try to access the international website of Project Gutenberg, a free ebook repository (and audiobooks),  get a "Your IP address is blocked" message when they attempt to load any page on the site with the exception of the homepage.

Project Gutenberg hosts more than 56,000 free ebooks in various formats. Ebooks are offered in English, Spanish, German and other languages, and are considered free to use in the United States as they are not protected under U.S. copyright law according to the service.

German users may access the homepage of Project Gutenberg but get the "is blocked" message when they attempt to access any subpage on the domain.

project gutenberg blocked

The page informs users that all IP addresses from Germany are blocked because of a German court order. The project's lawyers believe that the "Court has no jurisdiction over the matter" and appealed the decision. Site access is blocked for users from Germany until the issue is resolved.

The lawsuit dates back to December 30, 2015, when Project Gutenberg received notification that a lawsuit was filed in Germany against it. The plaintiff, S. Fischer Verlag, GMBH, demanded that the project block access to 18 ebooks by the three German authors Heinrich Mann, Thomas Mann, and Alfred Döblin or remove the books entirely from the catalog.

The court sided with the plaintiff and ordered that the books had to be removed or made inaccessible from Germany. The court asked for download statistics to assess licensing fees or other fines, and for payment of the court costs.

Project Gutenberg's legal counsel disagrees with the claims and believes that the court overstepped its jurisdiction.

Access to all ebooks and pages from all of Germany was blocked to avoid additional lawsuits, and download records could not be provided because none are kept by the project.

PGLAF's legal advisors disagree with all claims that there must be any blocking, or removal, or anything associated - censorship, fines/fees, disclaimers, etc. - for items that are in the public domain in the US. Period.

Because the German Court has overstepped its jurisdiction, and allowed the world's largest publishing group to bully Project Gutenberg for these 18 books, there is every reason to think that this will keep happening. There are thousands of eBooks in the Project Gutenberg collection that could be subject to similar over-reaching and illigitimate actions.

PGLAF is a small volunteer organization, with no income (it doesn't sell anything), other than donations. There is every reason to fear that this huge corporation, with the backing of the German Court, will continue to take legal action. In fact, at least one other similar complaint arrived in 2017 about different books in the Project Gutenberg collection, from another company in Germany.

Project Gutenberg's focus is to make as much of the world's literature available as possible, to as many people as possible. But it is, and always has been, entirely US-based, and entirely operating within the copyright laws of the US. Blocking Germany, in an effort to forestall further legal actions, seems the best way to protect the organization and retain focus on its mission.

via Born

Project Gutenberg blocks access from Germany
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Project Gutenberg blocks access from Germany
Internet users from Germany who try to access the international website of Project Gutenberg, a free ebook repository, get a "Your IP address is blocked" message when they attempt to load any page on the site with the exception of the homepage.
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  1. charles foreman said on June 14, 2018 at 9:02 pm

    Well … I am suffering because of this despite all of the conspiracy theories etc.. it comes down to a court challenge and some intransigence on both sides…
    What to do …..What to do…
    Surprised no one has proposed ways to beat this.. hacks etc … the basic “fake IP address” or VPN is too easy and doesn’t work.
    I am looking for free ebooks and I love classic authors… I just want it to be over. I can get the Mann brothers works for next to nothing in Germany anyway on the used book circuit …so why so much ado about nothing… literally speaking.. pun intended!!
    So I am a US citizen living in the BRD (FRD) so although this seems like a national issue between sovereign nations.. it’s geography that screwing me. Gutenburg is ok for US citizens access… but I don’t have that now do I ?

    Stuck in the middle!!! Grr

  2. PulmCCM said on March 19, 2018 at 5:50 pm

    Thanks so much, Karen!

  3. Caroowild said on March 10, 2018 at 4:54 am

    Thanks for visiting, Heather. Hugs to you!!

  4. Martin said on March 7, 2018 at 10:55 am

    This is all so ironic with Johannes Gutenberg being a German.

    1. A different Martin said on March 7, 2018 at 2:08 pm


      Well … certainly *Rhenish*. And Archbishop Adolf II von Nassau-Wiesbaden-Idstein kicked Gutenberg out of Mainz, so there’s historical precedent. ;-)

  5. Disclaimmet said on March 5, 2018 at 4:41 pm

    “do what we do in the USA – send him a box of dog crap”

    You must have received many of these gift boxes. Congratulations.

    1. Jojo said on March 6, 2018 at 4:16 am

      Nope. My address is a closely held secret. :)

  6. svd said on March 5, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    the only thing that’s of serious interest is i think usually it’s the other way around – us entities going after foreign entities (in us courts)

  7. Jojo said on March 5, 2018 at 7:57 am

    And if I can make a giant leap, all of this chaos and confusion is an argument for a one world government with one set of laws for everyone.

    But looks like we will have to wait a couple more centuries (at least) for this to possibly happen.

    Meanwhile, tough luck Germany. Meanwhile for the befuddled guy that started this whole brouhaha, do what we do in the USA – send him a box of dog crap, special delivery. [lol]

  8. Valrobex said on March 5, 2018 at 2:50 am

    What appears to be the larger picture is that copy write laws have not kept up with the changes in technology. Adding to the confusion is that there are differences concerning copy write protocol among different governing bodies.

    There are earlier examples of a similar nature. For example, when automobiles first came on the scene there was a time lag before driving laws caught up with the technology: The imposition of driving tests, drivers licenses, street signs, traffic signals, etc. And just imagine what is going to happen to the driving laws if/when self driving cars and trucks emerge. I suspect it will result in chaos. For example, what happens when a self-driving car is involved in an accident where someone is killed? Who is to be held responsible? The vehicle owner? The car manufacturer? How about the author of the software? What if the victim was personally driving their own vehicle? What if the victim was a passenger in the self driving vehicle? It’s going to be messy.

    Also consider some of the opinions expressed in this comment section. Most of them are well taken, including the suggestion to use a VPN made by J.F. Paquet. But that solution just works around the “problem.” It doesn’t solve the larger problem. I strongly support that an author or creator has a right to be compensated for their creative work. But in this day of ever changing and increasing information technology I don’t know how to arrange things so that it happens in a just and proper manner. Greater minds than mine will have to address these issues but how can they with the unbelievably rapid changes in information technology? And what will happen when an AI infringes on a copy write? How do you sue a machine?

    Unfortunately, if history is any indication, this issue and similar copy write issues won’t be resolved in the near term. Hold on tight, we’re in for a hell of a ride!

  9. Dog said on March 4, 2018 at 8:12 pm

    I get a little curious ..Is this kind of block deployed at isp level of earch of the internet providers from court order? Or on a higher tier? How does these cenarios work?
    Would changing dns work in this case? Perhaps dnscrypt?
    Or is this blockage ip adress based?

    1. Chris said on March 4, 2018 at 9:58 pm

      project Gutenberg was forced by that court to avtivate geoblocking on their servers.

      Geoblocking works using software (or special appliances) that consults a database of IP addresses and their presumed country of origin. Several such databases are available, if you need them professionally there is usually a quite expensive subscription service for their continued use and update involved.

      That’s another regular cost that now will have to be financed by the foundation’s small donors, money that will be missing in furthering the foundation’s core goals. Its like paying taxes to Germany – for a US foundation.

  10. dmacleo said on March 4, 2018 at 7:41 pm

    internet archive blocked?
    have not searched those authors but they host vids and books also.

  11. Vjalle said on March 4, 2018 at 6:48 pm

    I’d simply remove ALL German stuff from the library and give a new, non-German name to the project.

    1. Chris said on March 4, 2018 at 10:04 pm

      Well, the name istelf was not of any significance in this debate.

  12. asd said on March 4, 2018 at 5:59 pm

    They should be grateful anyone even wants to host these boring old books for free.

  13. Matt said on March 4, 2018 at 4:02 pm

    I’m quite sick of these pseudo-egalitarian and opportunistic, anglo-saxon / international tech projects or companies that think US law is the only law on the planet! The intellectual property of people of other nations is not merely information waiting to be incorporated into the cultural & legal sphere in the US and ideally monetised upon.

    1. Jeroen said on March 9, 2018 at 11:17 pm

      In this case, we are dealing with a German court thinking it can commandeer a US organization without presence in Germany to do things in the US because of German law. If that isn’t a gross overreach of power, what is?

    2. Jason said on March 4, 2018 at 5:23 pm

      I agree with you on the issues of US law and opportunistic liberal Anglo-American tech companies. :) But I feel I have to push back on your comment about “intellectual property”. This is a nonsense term, and the laws behind it are really over-reaching.

      For example, someone here mentioned the “70-year rule”. How does it make ANY sense for a random third-party publisher to have exclusive publishing writes 70 years after the person who wrote the damn thing has died? Patents for life-saving medicines only last a decade or so, yet Thomas Mann’s contributions to civilization cannot be touched for 70 years? Come on, that’s just silly, and of course people will resort to piracy in response.

      1. Matt said on March 4, 2018 at 6:36 pm

        Jason. No offensive, I don’t know about your professional situation. But, if you’re working anywhere in the field of arts or you’re self-employed and paying food & rent off what’s the result of – your work – you’d be thinking very differently, I can assure you.


        I’m sure Martin and the freelance contributors of this blog aren’t exactly thoroughly enjoyed whenever someone copy & paste their content w/o credit either.


        The works of matter are still under protection under German Urheberrecht for a good number of years, this is to be respected. I don’t get why this is even up for debate. Law is law.

        Try to violate the rights of authors and creators protected by US law anywhere on earth and you won’t be just having a very powerful international law firm but also the CIA amongst others on your back.

      2. Jeroen said on March 9, 2018 at 11:13 pm

        In fact, those overly long copyrights work against authors who are currently working hard to make a living. People have limited budgets for works of art, and budgets don’t magically increase when copyright terms get longer. This simply means that the budget for works will have to be shared with the heirs of long dead authors, and will not help currently active writers.

        Sure, authors and artist have a valid interest in copyright. However, they need not have copyrights 70 years after they are dead. In fact it will harm them.

      3. A different Martin said on March 10, 2018 at 5:19 pm

        @Chris, Jeroen, and maybe some others I’m too lazy to scroll up and identify:

        People whose work is protected by copyright may well have people they care about (typically family) and whose financial security they worry about after they die. And sometimes their work doesn’t start paying off until shortly before or after they die. Seventy years is probably roughly enough time for copyright royalties to benefit anyone/everyone they knew and cared about during their lifetimes. For some creators, knowing that the income from their work will at least benefit their loved ones may be enough to deter them from throwing in the towel and getting a regular, “non-creative” job, and the world is arguably richer for it. (Remember: not every country in the world has a good social welfare system, with guaranteed healthcare, subsidized housing, good public education, free university education, and an adequate old-age pension. In those countries, privately earned money is critical to ensuring that your surviving spouse, kids, and grandkids have a decent future.)

        Anyway, that’s one side of the argument. It’s far from perfect, but it would be an insult and disincentive to creators to have them toil for decades, die, and then have their work become hugely popular while their loved ones live (and sometimes die prematurely) in penury.

      4. Chris said on March 4, 2018 at 9:52 pm

        You are seriously trying to compare lifting a jornalist’s copyrighted work from a web site with publishing public domain texts?

        As for the issue: Frankly, given the situation in the US, Europe in the times of internet having different copyright laws here is the height of foolishness to begin with. Then, Europe trying to enforce its laws across the pond on US foundations running server on US soil is nothing short of outrageous.

        And lastly, the extreme injustice of the laws involved make any support for this court case problematic on moral grounds. If you look at history of copyright, since its beginning its duration has been subject to a never-ending sequence of extensions – and those always came on the behest of filthy rich companies who sat on treasure troves of precious copyrights that they do not under any circumstances want to transfer to the public in due time. Copyright and its constant extension is one of THE eminent examples of rent-seeking private entities who use their political clout to enact legislation guaranteeing such rent for them to the detriment of the public at large.

        This is not about the well being artists. No artist needs income after his death. If an artist wants to ensure the economic wellbeing of relatives, he or she can buy insurance to that end. Copyright is a a time limited monopoly granted to creators, and if that limit is meant to mean anything, it must be reasonably limited for humans to experience it. 70 (or even 95) years from death does not even remotely fit that criterium. 70 years after death is, for all practical purposes, “forever”.

      5. Jason said on March 4, 2018 at 7:55 pm


        Well of course we’ll get that response from people who have a personal financial interest in the status quo. That’s always true. But this is quite separate from the question of what is best for society as a whole. Is it your argument that we won’t get great works of art if we reform copyright law? I would refer you to the great works of music, literature, theatre and visual art that helped make Western Civilization: most of these were created long before copyright laws. Somehow the artists in those days not only managed to create art but arguably did a better job than our postmodern artists are doing today.

        But let me get back to the 70 year law, because that was my specific objection in the previous post. Why, exactly, is it moral or even desirable to have a 70 year lock-down on art? What is the rationale behind this? I can’t connect the dots between this particular law and the need to financially support artists. How can dead artists be supported? Obviously the support we’re giving is not to the artists but to the publishers.

        I’m not going to comment on your statement about cutting and pasting Martin’s work, other than to point out that it has nothing to do with my objection to the 70 year rule. If someone posts Martin’s work on a different website after he has died, I would hope for the author to be attributed, but I wouldn’t have a moral objection to the posting itself.

        One last point comes to mind regarding your “law is the law” truism. It may not have been clear in my previous post, but I am not advocating piracy. In discussing piracy my purpose is to point out what happens when a significant portion of society objects to a law: people “vote” with their actions. There is lots of evidence that when access to content becomes easier, piracy for that content goes down. We can complain about the injustice of this, or we can look for a realistic compromise.

    3. Fasci Winchuk said on March 4, 2018 at 4:27 pm

      I’m quite sick of people who use big words to seem smart.

      1. Rufus said on March 4, 2018 at 5:50 pm

        Get a dictionary. Many are for free.

  14. J.F. Paquet said on March 4, 2018 at 3:28 pm

    Why all the fuss ?
    Use a VPN and select a server outside Germany, it’s cheap and fast.

    1. Jason said on March 4, 2018 at 5:15 pm

      Well yes. of course that’s what people will do to get around the block; but that is a “bandaid” rather than a solution. The problem here – yet again – is bad copyright law. Until society reforms the law, these kinds of challenges will keep happening (and people will keep using your solution to get around them).

  15. Tom Hawack said on March 4, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    Why refuse (within Germany) the whole project-Gutenberg’s library when only 18 ebooks are concerned? Why hasn’t access been blocked (to German users) to these 18 ebooks only?

    Behavior of the plaintiff seems relevant of an outdated state of mind, based on what? Profit? Blocking ebooks which have the legitimacy of at least U.S. standards won’t bring extra Euros, for sure. A matter of ego, or principles? That’s far from business. I don’t understand.

    1. Chris said on March 4, 2018 at 8:44 pm

      because Project Gutenberg (correctly) argues that leaves them open to the next bozo trying a similar stunt with other works. This is not about the 18 books – it is about PG’s freedom to operate under their local law. Right now, serving Gerrmany is an unacceptable risk to them.

      Thank you Landgericht Frankfurt – your active contribution to the cultural impoverishment of Germany is duly noted.

    2. Oxa said on March 4, 2018 at 8:26 pm

      “Why refuse (within Germany) the whole project-Gutenberg’s library when only 18 ebooks are concerned?”

      Did you even bother to read the statement by PG? They believe that this is only the tip of the iceberg, that further lawsuits will ensue (“there is every reason to think that this will keep happening”) and they don’t have the money to defend lawsuit after lawsuit (“PGLAF is a small volunteer organization, with no income”).

  16. Gerard said on March 4, 2018 at 2:43 pm

    The rights of authors are protected for 70 years after their death according to EU directives implemented in almost all EU member states. Copyright protection usually lasts for 70 years after the death of an author in the USA also, and sometimes even longer.
    Heinrich Mann, Thomas Mann and Alfred Döblin died in 1950, 1955 and 1957 respectively, all less than 70 years ago. The news weekly Der Spiegel hosts a German Gutenberg site without any works by Döblin listed and no works by the Mann brothers available until 1st of January 2021 and 2026 respectively. I am not a copyright lawyer, but perhaps Project Gutenberg would be well advised to remove their books from the website(s).

    Legal aspects:

    1. Chris said on March 4, 2018 at 8:41 pm

      you DO understand that Project Gutenberg is a US charitable foundation operating in US territory and under US laws?

      It is the height of arrogance to assume they should follow EU law instead of US law.

    2. Johnny said on March 4, 2018 at 5:57 pm

      Project Gutenberg understands copyright law much better than you do. In the US, the 70 year rule is only for works published after 1978. Any work published before 1923 is in the public domain. And for works between those dates, it gets more complicated. Those conditions are all spelled out in the Wikipedia article you linked to. For the US, these works are public domain.

  17. Yuliya said on March 4, 2018 at 2:40 pm

    >The plaintiff, S. Fischer Verlag, GMBH, demanded that the project blocked access to 18 ebooks by the three German authors Heinrich Mann, Thomas Mann, and Alfred Döblin or removed the books entirely from the catalog.
    They need the money off those books to create a couple more mosques. Sorry, I could not resist.

    Use Tor: []

    1. AntiBigotry Please Martin said on March 5, 2018 at 5:12 pm

      Okay, let’s dissect your comment:

      (1) What a lame Islamophobic joke! (2) What a complete OPSEC fail, you left your guard node’s IP address there. (3) Why are you maximizing Tor Browser’s window when that makes your fingeprint more unique?

      1. A different Martin said on March 6, 2018 at 6:00 pm

        @AntiBigotry Please Martin:

        (1) I interpreted it as an *ironic* joke making fun of a common Islamophobic meme, but I guess it’s in the eye of the beholder. (2) The entry node seems to be selected at random every time you start Tor Browser, so unless Yuliya runs Tor Browser for days on end without restarting it, it’s not a very big OPSEC fail. (3) Look at the window control buttons on the upper right of Yuliya’s screenshot. The middle button is a *maximize* button, not a *restore* button. She apparently didn’t maximize her Tor Browser window using the button, and we don’t know whether or not she cropped, resized, or resampled her shot before posting it. Makeweight argument fail! ;-)

  18. Marek said on March 4, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    This is a normal policy of the German government, which aims to fool its citizens. Today too many questions are asked in Germany. More and more people have doubts.

    1. Strawberry said on March 4, 2018 at 5:37 pm

      It was a german court who decided this. Not the government. You try to make an ideological issue out of a legal one. Maybe you should start asking more questions to understand the difference between it. Or ask the ones who made you write this nonsense.

      1. Chris said on March 4, 2018 at 8:38 pm

        it is the government that has left laws in place that at least potentially support this travesty, despite having been begged by German internet users and independent copyright experts to finally get rid of them for decades

        it is the government that has allowed the collective German judiciary to develop its own laws and rules that have no grounding whatsoever in written law (Störerhaftung is a good example), despite having been begged by German internet users and independent legal experts to finally get rid of them for decades

      2. Marek said on March 4, 2018 at 6:44 pm

        Lol, BfV, BND, Elektronische Kampfführung and MAD works really fast :D What can i say? German death camps and good night :)

    2. TianlanSha said on March 4, 2018 at 1:51 pm


      1. Skaar said on March 4, 2018 at 2:02 pm

        Copyright. Don’t go into Putinbot mode right away. Your daddy is not bigger than their daddy.

      2. Chris said on March 4, 2018 at 8:28 pm

        No, not copyright. As Project Gutenberg has conclusively argued, the matter of copyright is clear – the operate in the US, and only there, and the works in question are public domain.

        An obscure German regional court judge with unwarranted delusions of grandeur tries to impose German law upon other countries here. (And the fact that similar delusional US judges exist does not make this one bit better).

      3. John Fenderson said on March 5, 2018 at 6:52 pm


        It’s not quite as simple as that. The US and (I believe) Germany are both signatories to the Berne convention and the WIPO copyright treaty. Copyright amongst signatory nations is not limited to national borders.

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