“Nearly a century ago, the publisher Alfred A. Knopf released a slim book of spiritual fables by an obscure poet and painter named Kahlil Gibran. Knopf had modest expectations…Much to his surprise, the book — titled The Prophet — took off. Until now, the publishing house that still bears Knopf’s name has held the North American copyright on the title. But that will change on Jan. 1, when The Prophet enters the public domain.” A. Alter, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
“… works by thousands of other artists and writers, including Marcel Proust, Willa Cather, D. H. Lawrence, Agatha Christie, Joseph Conrad, Edith Wharton, P. G. Wodehouse, Rudyard Kipling, Katherine Mansfield, Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens [will also enter the public domain].
This coming year marks the first time in two decades that a large body of copyrighted works will lose their protected status — a shift that will have profound consequences for publishers and literary estates, which stand to lose both money and creative control.
But it will also be a boon for readers, who will have more editions to choose from, and for writers and other artists who can create new works based on classic stories without getting hit with an intellectual property lawsuit…The sudden deluge of available works traces back to legislation Congress passed in 1998, which extended copyright protections by 20 years. The law reset the copyright term for works published from 1923 to 1977 — lengthening it from 75 years to 95 years after publication — essentially freezing their protected status.
Now that the term extension has run out, the spigot has been turned back on. Each January will bring a fresh crop of novels, plays, music and movies into the public domain. ‘Eventually, these books belong to the people,’ said James L. W. West III, a Fitzgerald scholar. ‘We can have new attempts to edit and reinterpret all of these iconic texts.’
Once books become part of the public domain, anyone can sell a digital, audio or print edition on Amazon. Theater and film producers can adapt the works into movies, plays and musicals without having to secure rights. Rival publishing houses can issue new print editions, and scholars can publish new annotated versions and interpretations.
It’s difficult to say exactly how many works will enter the public domain this January, because some authors and publishers allowed their copyright to lapse, and some foreign-language books first published overseas in 1923 may remain under copyright for now, like Felix Salten’s Bambi…Some publishers and the writers’ heirs fear that losing copyright protections will lead to inferior editions with typos and other errors, and to derivative works that damage the integrity of iconic stories.
Still, many scholars and legal experts argue that American copyright law, which is mind-numbingly complex, has skewed toward enriching companies and the heirs of writers and artists at the expense of the public…Publishers often stop printing books that aren’t selling, but still retain the copyright, so no one else can release new editions. Once the books enter the public domain, a wider variety of new editions become available again, filling in a hole in the public and cultural record.
Legacy publishers are also snapping up newly available works. Penguin Classics is releasing new editions of Cane, [and] Gibran’s The Prophet.Vintage Classics is publishing a new edition of Robert Frost’s New Hampshire.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer
Directions: Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Kahlil Gibran was an obscure poet.
- The publishing house has held the North American copyright on the title.
- This new shift that will have profound consequences for publishers.
- But it will also be a boon for readers, who will have more editions to choose from.
- The sudden deluge of available works traces back to legislation Congress passed in 1998.
- Some writers’ heirs fear that losing copyright protections will lead to inferior editions.
- Many also fear that typos and other errors will damage the integrity of iconic stories.
- Scholars and legal experts argue that American copyright law has skewed toward enriching companies.
- Over the decades, lawmakers repeatedly prolonged the terms.
- Theater and film producers can adapt the works into movies, plays and musicals.
Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- The shift will have profound consequences for publishers.
- Book are going to be available in a much wider variety.
- Each January will bring a fresh crop of novels plays, music and movies into the public domain.
- These book belong to the people.
- Fans can publish and sell their own sequels and spinoffs.
- Theater and film producers can adapt the works into movies.
- Free digital copies will circulate online.
- It’s difficult to said exactly how many works will enter the public domain this January.
- Publishers who specialize in classics see a tremendous opportunity to reintroduce old works.
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
In___of a flood of new ___of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby when the ___expires in 2021, the Fitzgerald estate and his publisher, Scribner, released a new edition of the novel in April, hoping to position it as the definitive ___of the text.
The___has sold around 30 million ___worldwide, and continues to sell more than 500,000 ___a year in the ___alone.
WORD LIST: novel, United States, anticipation, copies, version, editions, copyright, copies,
Discussion for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.
- The article states, “Books are going to be available in a much wider variety now, and they’re going to be cheaper,” said Imke Reimers, an assistant professor of economics at Northeastern University who has studied the impact of copyright. “Consumers and readers are definitely going to benefit from this.” Explain how readers will benefit from having access to so many books.
- According to the author once books become available to the public, what will people such as theater and film producers be able to do with the literary works?
- The article states, “Some publishers and the writers’ heirs fear that losing copyright protections will lead to inferior editions with typos and other errors, and to derivative works that damage the integrity of iconic stories.” Do you agree or disagree with this idea? Provide reasons for your answer.
- With your group members create a list of your favorite classic novels. Is there a novel form the list that you would change? Explain why or why not.
1-Minute Free Writing Exercise
Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading. Review the responses as a class.