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The Copyright Nightmare of 'I Have a Dream' 366

Posted by Soulskill
from the private-history dept.
CoveredTrax writes "If you weren't alive to witness Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech on the Washington Mall 48 years ago this week, you might try to switch on the old YouTube and dial it up. But you won't find it there or anywhere else; rights to its usage remain with King and his family. Typically, a speech broadcast to a large audience on radio and television (and considered instrumental in historic political changes and ranked as the most important speech in 20th century American history) would seem to be a prime candidate for the public domain. But the copyright dilemma began in December 1963, when King sued Mister Maestro, Inc., and Twentieth Century Fox Records Company to stop the unauthorized sale of records of the 17-minute oration."
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The Copyright Nightmare of 'I Have a Dream'

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 29, 2011 @12:47PM (#37243968)

    Right...? Or is Disney going to get another copyright extension passed?

  • by jarich (733129) on Monday August 29, 2011 @12:48PM (#37243982) Homepage Journal
    In related news, the group building the memorial had to ~pay~ MLK's family 800,000 dollars for the rights to his image and words. http://goodnightsnack.com/2011/08/26/martin-luther-king-jr-family-charges-800k-to-use-his-words-on-commemorative-dc-statue-greed/ [goodnightsnack.com]
    • by Baloroth (2370816) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:00PM (#37244170)
      Members of celebrities families are greedy free-riding bastards who hang on their relatives coattails. In other news, rodent attacks man. More at 11.
      • by shadowofwind (1209890) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:24PM (#37244522)

        Members of celebrities families are greedy free-riding bastards who hang on their relatives coattails. In other news, rodent attacks man. More at 11.

        Why bring Jimmy Carter into this?

      • That rodent is my step dad, and it costs $80k to reference him, and another $100k to use him as a news headline. You'll be hearing from my lawyers.
      • The ones that you hear about may be. It's just another case of the worst also being the loudest.

        Most family members of most celebrities keep their head down and carry on as normal, occasionally annoyed when people poke them about their famous niece/uncle/brother.

      • Members of celebrities families are greedy free-riding bastards who hang on their relatives coattails. In other news, rodent attacks man. More at 11.

        King's family is just continuing what King himself did; copyright as much of what he said and wrote as he could, and jealously guard the rights and profits from such work. It doesn't exactly jibe with the image we have of him today, but facts are facts. The man was intent on squeezing out every dime could in this manner.

        • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Monday August 29, 2011 @02:25PM (#37245352)

          King's family is just continuing what King himself did; copyright as much of what he said and wrote as he could, and jealously guard the rights and profits from such work. It doesn't exactly jibe with the image we have of him today, but facts are facts. The man was intent on squeezing out every dime could in this manner.

          Was he really "intent on squeezing out every dime" or was it really about controlling his words to prevent them from being misused? I'm not talking about what his survivors do now, but what MLK did himself.

          After all, the US copyright system does not really have an equivalent of the continental "moral right" to prevent distortion of the author's intent. So the only way to to get the same effect is to zealously pursue the US property right version of copyright.

        • by Teancum (67324)

          In partial deference to MLK's widow, she didn't have an insurance policy on her husband and after his death she was pretty much destitute. I don't think he even paid much into Social Security. The copyright on his speeches and what other publications he had was pretty much her sole source of financial support.

          Why more than 40 years later we should still be helping his family out is another story, but at least originally there was a very legitimate objective here in terms of what the royalties would be use

    • by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:07PM (#37244284) Homepage Journal

      The group building the memorial are PISSING on King's grave.
      Harry E. Johnson Sr., president of the foundation, made $265,085 in 2008.

      They built the "memorial" with uncompensated (read "slave") labour from China.

      http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2011/08/26/305092/mlk-jr-memorial-statue-completed-using-unpaid-chinese-laborers/ [thinkprogress.org]

      Get this straight. MLK was not a "fee-good, let's all respect each other" civil-rights version of Barney the dinosaur.

      He was mobilising and uniting the underprivileged, black and white, in ways that were threatening to the war-mongering coproratist kleptocrats. They didn't kill him 'cos he wanted people to drink from the same fountain.

      Now, they are killing him with artificial praise. It's like the moneylenders in the Temple, now selling "Jesus Slept Here" t-shirts.

      • well OBVIOUSLY he was a "fee-good" type of guy, or at least his family was.... *rimshot*
      • by MaWeiTao (908546)

        I'm not going to automatically dismiss that story out of hand, but right now the only source I see for this story is Think Progress. A search brings up a bunch of similarly minded websites running the same exact story and all linking back to the same source.

        What I found telling was that there's mention of using union labor and the leadership then backing out and going with Chinese labor. It sounds to me like people are upset that they didn't go with union labor and threw in the term "unpaid" to get people r

    • What a bunch of assholes. This dude was a great man and they piss all over his memory.
    • THAT ISN'T ALWAYS TRUE!! You better take it back! Do your research, and you'll find that your statement is only true about 93.56% of the time. /sarcasm

  • How is this (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Stargoat (658863) * <stargoat@gmail.com> on Monday August 29, 2011 @12:48PM (#37243988) Journal

    How is this different from Steam Boat Willy? Both are important to culture, but both are unavailable in the public domain. Intellectual property laws in this country have become obscene. It is time to put an end to century laws and go back to a sensible two generation intellectual property right ownership (38 years).

    • Re:How is this (Score:5, Insightful)

      by slapout (93640) on Monday August 29, 2011 @12:53PM (#37244072)

      The speech contained a message that MLK (presumably) wanted to get out to everyone. Steamboat Willy, not so much.

    • Unfortunately both parties have fallen prey to the lobbying and money. Democrats are closer to Hollywood and thus more supportive of stronger copyright laws, and Republicans are hardly better.

      • Re:How is this (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:10PM (#37244326)

        Unfortunately both parties have fallen prey to the lobbying and money. Democrats are closer to Hollywood and thus more supportive of stronger copyright laws, and Republicans are hardly better.

        This is why the only way you might be able to get this on the political agenda (which is still a long way away from getting any legislation passed) is through strong corporate sponsorship for this proposal: Google might be interested, maybe Microsoft et al.

        One thing needs to be very clear though: the public, that was deprived of works getting into the public domain at the expected time when they bought the works, were never financially compensated for this loss; this means that rightsholders who see their copyright term shortened also will not need to be financially compensated.

  • ...there's no references to the speech on the new memorial in Washington, DC.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 29, 2011 @12:52PM (#37244038)

    I have listened to this speech at work on the internet every year on the anniversary of MLK's death. The speech text and audio have never been hard to find. Here is an example site:

    http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

    I believe this counts as "anywhere else."

  • I Had A Dream... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Monday August 29, 2011 @12:52PM (#37244050)
    Obviously the family is not very big on living up to MLK's dream.
    • I honestly can't blame them. They paid for that dream with his life. The provisions of copyright law are ridiculous, but them's the breaks.

  • How dare his family try to make money off of this man? They should be ashamed of themselves. If there's any speech that should be public domain, it's this one. And don't even get me started on their payments from the National Mall memorial. We're trying to honor this man for his accomplishments. These family members disgusts me. They should stop the money grabbing and try to live up to the spirit and legacy of their relative, not make money off of him.
    • by BZ (40346)

      Would he be rolling in his grave? He himself filed suit when the recordings of the speech were being sold...

      • by rahvin112 (446269)

        I can understand suing if someone else is selling the recordings and making money off the transaction. But once he was dead the stuff should have passed into the public domain and paying to create a memorial? I don't think so. That's beyond evil.

        • by BZ (40346)

          I don't know about "beyond evil". I agree it seems globally suboptimal, but I don't know the details of the family's financial circumstances, etc.

          But my point was that maybe he would have been unhappy with the way the copyright is being used, but maybe he wouldn't be. It does seem like the family has mostly been suing in cases where someoen is in fact making money off the speech.

      • Yes he would. He stopped a company from profiting from his speech. But nowhere has it been said that he turned around & did the same thing? Who can say that if he were alive today that he'd allow it to be viewed for free on a site like YouTube? Or have it up on a site of his own?
        I might not like the corporate use of IP law, I do recognize that IP law is still useful in protecting the originators of such work from being stolen by others for profit. There are a lot of people who use IP law to keep th
        • by BZ (40346)

          > he'd allow it to be viewed for free on a site like
          > YouTube?

          Or in other words to allow Google to profit off his speech?

          Maybe he would. Maybe he wouldn't. Hard to say!

        • by GodInHell (258915)
          He directed his organization to license its use and used the money to fund his organization. The estate has continued the practice. Given how widely available the text and audio is, there's a lot of fire and brimstone over this basic and well understood application of black-letter copyright law. You're allowed to profit from your work during your lifetime, afterward your heirs get to profit from your work for a set period of time.

          Now, Happy Birthday to You, THERE'S a sticky copyright issue.

          -GiH
          • afterward your heirs get to profit from your work for a set period of time.

            How is it "a set period of time" if Congress can extend it on a whim (Eldred v. Ashcroft)?

    • MLK was alive for the suit against Mister Maestro and Twentieth Century Fox. The copyright notice, hastily scribbled onto the text of the speech by Mr. King's attorney as copies were being mimeographed in the press tent the day of the speech is one of the financial pillars that gave MLK's organization the funding to keep moving forward. To be clear, the speech had been pressed onto records and was being sold over over the country as a single. The MLK foundation stepped in, enforced the copyright, and clai
  • There should be a right to prevent others from profiting by copying and distributing or packaging your works
    without an agreement with you,
    but NOT a right to prevent the material being freely copyable where no money is being exchanged and no
    advertising is being glommed on.

  • Not on YouTube (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jason Levine (196982) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:02PM (#37244216)

    Yes, the speech is not on YouTube. Not here [youtube.com], here [youtube.com], or even here [youtube.com]. It's definitely not here [youtube.com].

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      None of those links appear to be to the entire speech, but rather shorts snippets with documentary info intermingled. The original statement seems to stand.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Oh, and it isn't here either:
      http://www.archive.org/details/MLKDream

    • Four links taken down in 3...2...1...
    • by 0111 1110 (518466)

      I guess the Russian band PPK never heard about this. MLK and Chernobyl [youtube.com]

  • Typically, a speech broadcast to a large audience on radio and television (and considered instrumental in historic political changes and ranked as the most important speech in 20th century American history) would seem to be a prime candidate for the public domain.

    I don't know how in the world you could think this. It's a ridiculous notion. It's pretty obvious that the speech is copyrighted, and that the owners of the copyright have the right to restrict its distribution. Anyone wishing to write about th

    • by jedidiah (1196)

      It's trivial to prevent the "twisting" of Dr Kings work without turning the whole thing into a crass money grab.

  • by SensitiveMale (155605) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:08PM (#37244300)

    Shame that 90% of his family are money grubbing whores.

    • by GodInHell (258915) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:15PM (#37244392) Homepage
      MLK was alive for the suit against Mister Maestro and Twentieth Century Fox.

      The copyright notice, hastily scribbled onto the text of the speech by Mr. King's attorney as copies were being mimeographed in the press tent the day of the speech is one of the financial pillars that gave MLK's organization the funding to keep moving forward.

      To be clear, the speech had been pressed onto records and was being sold over over the country as a single. The MLK foundation stepped in, enforced the copyright, and claimed a cut to continue Mr. King's work.

      Martin Luther King, Jr. vs Mister Maestro, Inc., and 20th Century-Fox Record Corporation USDC, S.D.N.Y. (12-13-1963) 224 F.Supp.101, 140 USPQ 366. Since I'm guessing you do not actually know -- MLK died on April 4, 1968, about 5 years after you think he was "rolling over in his grave."

      -GiH
    • by jedidiah (1196)

      It's good that the other 10% were a bit more enlightened. ...also makes you wonder about how much people are held back by such internal forces versus external ones.

    • by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:52PM (#37244906)

      The good news is that you are judging them, not by the color of their skin, but by the quality of their character.

      The bad news is the quality of their character.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I have my own dream that someday we will end this copyright foolishness. That people will realize that ideals once expressed become part of our collective humanity, and not something to be enslaved forever to the false god of capitalistic profits. I see a day when all children have the chance to make beautiful music and that music not be shacked by men who make no art. Then if we the people enjoy that music, then those children can earn a comfortable living for themselves from their endeavors.

    Yes, I have se

  • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:19PM (#37244458)

    Ever since their mother's death, MLK's children have done nothing but fight over the rights in regards to their father, and the profits to be gained by selling them. For instance, in regards to a proposed MLK movie: "Bernice King and her eldest brother, Martin III, say they are "taking action" against their estranged sibling, Dexter, who is chief executive of the King estate, because he apparently decided to negotiate the entire film deal with Spielberg and Dreamworks without attempting to seek their permission." (http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/the-king-family-fighting-over-the-dream-1688644.html). And notice how Dexter is the chief executive of the estate. That means he is entirely within his rights to negotiate a movie deal on behalf of the estate. Book deals and memoirs regarding MLK and Coretta King, worth millions of dollars, have been lost due to infighting and court battles (http://www.thegrio.com/top-stories/atlanta-ap----two-children.php)(http://cards6.wordpress.com/2008/11/02/in-fighting-between-king-family-tarnishes-king-legacy/).

    It's really very sad. MLK certainly did a great thing for this country, centered around the march and his "I Have A Dream" speech. However, it seems his children have a dream as well: to make as much money off their father's legacy. I would be willing to bet that MLK, were he still alive, would be ashamed of how is children are acting. They are disrespecting their father and their legacy.

  • by kirkb (158552) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:24PM (#37244530) Homepage

    Anybody from Atlanta should be able to attest that Dr. King's family is a bunch of degenerates who ride on his accomplishments for their own monetary / political / social gain. Just check out the frequent lawsuits and scandals involving family members and the King Center.

    • by Nidi62 (1525137)

      Anybody from Atlanta should be able to attest that Dr. King's family is a bunch of degenerates who ride on his accomplishments for their own monetary / political / social gain. Just check out the frequent lawsuits and scandals involving family members and the King Center.

      I live 2 blocks from the MLK, jr. National Historic site, and I approve of this message.

  • by cshay (79326) on Monday August 29, 2011 @01:25PM (#37244546)

    FWIW, I once listened to the speech while reading along to the text of the speech as found in a book of famous speeches I had.

    I learned a lesson that day which is that publishers will publish the "official" text which may differ significantly from that which was actually delivered. I was pretty annoyed because I paid good money for the book and wanted to read along to the speech.

    • Did you identify a change in the message beyond the mere words, or was it just a sloppy transcription? Perhaps they published a version of the speech he wrote down beforehand, which would of course not be identical to something spoken over 17 minutes by anyone who knows well enough to not stare at the paper for the duration of the delivery.

  • It is highly disputed that MLK plagiarised the I Had A Dream speech. http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/m/mlk.htm [truthorfiction.com] I think it should be settled once and for all.

    Either revoke it or respect it. I don't care which. But if King is to be a national hero, I don't think it's right that there should be profit in it for anyone -- not even his family.

  • I have a copyright nightmare ...

  • then it can be changed to "I have a DRM".
  • What we need is an MLK-like figure making an impassioned and influential speech promoting the abolition of patent and copyright laws.
  • "Those are holy words, only a chief may speak them."
  • by sampson7 (536545) on Monday August 29, 2011 @02:51PM (#37245668)

    The entry/non-entry of Dr. King's speech into the public domain is a famous case in copyright circles - and in fact, was one reason the copyright laws were changed. It's a fascinating story.

    First you need to realize that prior to 1976, unless you put a copyright mark on a document and properly registed it, it was presumed to be in the public domain as soon as it was made public. This led to a number of problems and disputes, and today is widely viewed as being overly punative to people who simply forget to put the mark on a document before releasing it. Today's copyright laws eliminate the "all or nothing" nature of the 1909 Act, and sensibly declare that copyright rests with the author, regardless of whether they properly marked it.

    Second, there's an interesting history behind the I Have a Dream speech. While the factual accounts of exactly what happened differ, Dr. King and his associates apparently distributed advance copies of the speech without the copyright mark on them to a group of journalists. Recognizing that this was a serious error, others within Dr. King's circle reportedly re-collected each of the advance copies, and then redistributed them with the copyright mark hand written on the document. So there was a factual question as to whether the textual copy of the speech was put into the public domain or not registered with the copyright office correctly.

    There was less dispute over the video and audio. As others have noted, Dr. King improvised/departed from the prepared text a number of times. So there was an argument that, even if Dr. King had lost the copyright on the original text (which is itself debatable), he maintained the copyright on the "performance" of the speach, and was thus entitled to a separate copyright (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estate_of_Martin_Luther_King,_Jr.,_Inc._v._CBS,_Inc. [wikipedia.org]).

    I also believe that the speech is freely licensed to anyone engaging in educational activities - so it's not quite as eggregious on the part of the family as many have suggested.

  • Jesus! (Score:4, Funny)

    by formfeed (703859) on Monday August 29, 2011 @03:19PM (#37245984)
    Now I know why the evangelists waited 70 years before writing it down.

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