Aug 23 2013

MotherJones: I Have a Copyright: The Problem With MLK’s Speech

I have a dream that on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls as they watch the footage on TV of Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his famous words. I have a dream that on the red hills of Georgia, the great-grandsons of former slaves and the great-grandsons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood this week, open their MacBooks and pull up the seminal speech on the internet.

But that speech is not free, alas.

It will not be in the public domain until 2038, 70 years after King’s death. Until then, any commercial enterprises wishing to legally broadcast King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered August 28, 1963, on the National Mall, or reprint its words must pay a hefty fee. CBS and USA Today learned this the hard way in the 1990s, when both reached undisclosed settlements with King’s estate after using the speech without permission. Intellectual Properties Management, the King family business that works in conjunction with music company EMI Publishing to license King’s copyrighted image and works, did not respond to an inquiry from Mother Jones about the cost of hosting a video of the speech on our site.

Due to the well-known lawsuits against news organizations and other smaller legal scuffles, King’s children have a reputation for maintaining a level of control over their father’s legacy that is rigorous at best and avaricious at worst. Critics, including civil rights icon Julian Bond, bristle over the fact that “I Have a Dream” is kept under strict watch in the name of controlling King’s image at the same time it’s licensed by rich companies for use in TV commercials, including a 2010 Mercedes-Benz spot, an Alcatel ad, and a particularly galling 2001 Cingular Wireless campaign that also included quotes from Kermit the Frog and Homer Simpson.

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One response so far

One Response to “MotherJones: I Have a Copyright: The Problem With MLK’s Speech”

  1. Patrickon 08 Jan 2014 at 7:39 pm

    I am not mad at the King children. Their father gave his life, at an early age so black people and people of color would have a fairer shake than was being given, in this land of all men are created equal. They deserve all they get, nothing, not even money can replace the love of their father, who was killed by hate.