Monday, August 19th, 2019

Why you probably didn’t hear or read Martin Luther King Jr’s speech today


In the Washington Post today, Josh Schiller explains why it might have been harder than you think to read a transcript or hear a recording of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech:

A few months after King delivered the speech, he sent a copy of the address to the U.S. Copyright office and listed the remarks as a “work not reproduced for sale.” In legal terms, this is also known as an unpublished work. He subsequently sued to enjoin two publishers from distributing phonographic reproductions of the address. One of the defendants, 20th Century Fox, had filmed and broadcast all of the speeches at the March on Washington at the request of the march’s organizers. From that material, it had reproduced the phonographs that were the subject of the injunction. But a court ruled that, although King had addressed a large public audience in an unrestricted public forum, reproduction without authorization was an infringement of King’s copyright. Performance of the speech, like the performance of a song or play in a public space, did not create a general waiver of King’s right to limit reproduction under the 1909 Copyright Act.

Since 1963, King and, posthumously, his estate have strictly enforced control over use of that speech and King’s likeness. A few years ago, the estate received more than $700,000 from the nonprofit foundation that created and built the monument to King on the Mall in order to use his words and image. The only legal way to reproduce King’s work — at least until it enters the public domain in 2038 — is to pay for a licensing fee, rates for which vary. (Individuals visiting the King Center can buy a recording of the “I have a dream” speech for $20. Licenses for media outlets run into the thousands.)

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