'I Have a Dream': MLK's Estate Has a Copyright - Law and Daily Life
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'I Have a Dream': MLK's Estate Has a Copyright

With the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington upon us, you may wish to revisit the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, which he famously delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the march.

But don't expect to easily find it online, because the speech is actually copyrighted.

MLK's Dream Is Copyrighted

Intellectual Properties Management is the King family business that works in conjunction with music company EMI Publishing to license King's copyrighted image and works, reports Mother Jones.

Under U.S. Copyright law, an author keeps a copyright for life plus 70 years. As a result, the speech won't be in the public domain until 2038 -- 70 years after King's death.

Until then, any commercial enterprises that want to broadcast or reprint the speech must pay a licensing fee. Regular folk can also purchase an authorized DVD copy of the speech for $20 from the King Center.

Think the copyright isn't strictly enforced? Think again.

The King family has become notorious for aggressively enforcing the speech's copyright and has filed several lawsuits against individuals and companies -- including documentary filmmakers and national media organizations -- over unlicensed footage, reports National Journal. Critics believe the enforcement efforts have created a chilling effect.

But don't worry. Companies like Mercedes Benz, Alcatel and Cingular Wireless have managed to pay the fee to use the speech in ads, reports Mother Jones. (Y'know, because that's certainly preserving the integrity of MLK's legacy.)

Should the Speech Be Free at Last?

Copyright reform advocates, historians, and journalists aren't too concerned about the King family monetizing a piece of the civil rights movement. But they firmly believe King's legacy has such great educational and historical importance -- especially on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington -- that strictly enforcing the copyright seems unjust. But alas, that's the law.

In the meantime, news outlets and others can use snippets of the speech under the doctrine of fair use.

If you're inspired by MLK and want to try your hand at a bit of civil disobedience, you can try to find the "I Have a Dream" speech in its entirety on YouTube, where an activist group called Fight for the Future uploaded it on Internet Freedom Day. As this blog post was being published, the video had yet to be taken down.

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