Public Domain Day advent calendar #1: The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

“Your children are not your children […]
For they have their own thoughts […]
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”

The lines above are from one of the more well-known parts of The Prophet, written by Lebanese-American poet and artist Kahlil Gibran.  Though they talk about one’s offspring, one could also see them as applying to one’s creations.  They may originate from people (parents or authors) who start with great control and influence over them, but eventually they become independent of their origin.  To quote another line in the poem, they “dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit”.

Since The Prophet was first published in 1923, it has to a large extent been under the control and influence of its author, and then, after his death in 1931, his estate.  But over time it has entered the public domain in various countries around the world.  It entered the public domain in many countries at the start of 1982, after 50 years had passed from the author’s death.  It entered (and in some cases, re-entered) the public domain in many others in 2002, more than 70 years after his death.  And finally, 31 days from now, it will enter the public domain in the United States, as part of the first batch of published works to enter the public domain in more than 20 years.

During the month of December, this blog will feature various works from 1923 that will be joining the public domain in the US this coming January 1, Public Domain Day.  The Prophet is fairly well-known and still easy to find in print.  Many other interesting works from 1923 are not so well-known or easy to find, and I hope to feature a wide variety of works over the next 31 days.  (I already have some works planned to feature, but have not yet filled out a full roster; if there are any in particular you’d like to suggest, let me know by commenting here or by contacting me.)

I plan to keep most of the posts short, but I’ll have links to more information on the works and authors featured, and folks are also welcome to discuss them further here in the comments if they wish.  Come the new year, I’ll also go back and add live links to online copies of the works when possible.  (For now, I’ll just add a link to all online books I know of by Gibran, some of which are already public domain in the US, and some of which aren’t yet but are public domain elsewhere.)

I may also sometimes take the opportunity to point out aspects of copyright relevant to the featured work.  For instance, in this post I’ve directly copied material from Gibran’s book (by quoting from it) even though I’ve noted that it’s still under copyright where I am.  I can do this thanks to the principle of fair use, which allows such copying under certain circumstances. There’s no universal algorithm for determining whether fair use applies in a particular case, but since I’m only quoting a small portion, in a noncommercial educational context, in order to provide original commentary and not to provide a substitute for the original work, a fair use defense would be very likely to prevail if a copyright dispute came up.  Once The Prophet enters the public domain here, though, we’ll be able to use larger portions, or the whole work, for a much wider variety of purposes.

I’ll post my next Public Domain Day advent calendar entry tomorrow.  I hope you’ll come back then to read it, and welcome your comments.

2019 update:  Link to the full text of The Prophet, now in the US public domain, courtesy Gutenberg Australia


About John Mark Ockerbloom

I'm a digital library strategist at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.
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