Did You Know MLK's "I Have a Dream" Speech is Copyrighted?


Via Brit Kenan Malik's great Twitter feed, I came across this story about copyright issues surrounding Martin Luther King's most-famous speech, the one delivered 50 years ago today in Washington, D.C. From The Drum:

This week's 'tales from the excesses of copyright' comes from the estate of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King who continue toput restrictions on the use of the civil rights' leader words, images and sounds. The speech, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this week, cannot be found legally in the public domain, unless express permission has been granted by King's estate. The only licensed version of the famous civil rights speech is found in its entirety on the Martin Luther King historical site which hosts almost all of his archives.

His speech "I have a Dream" is considered one of the most important cultural and historical moments of the 20th Century, yet is in incredibly difficult to find, listen to, or watch in its entirety when King addressed several hundred thousand people before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. The speech, which won't be in the public domain until 2038, can only be used if a commercial entity pays the King estate a hefty fee….

King had not copyrighted the text before delivering several versions of it or before his assassination; his family secured the copyright after his death.

Read the whole article for more information about the court case between CBS and the King estate over whether a performance of the speech counted as publishing it. 

And here's a Wash Post article on the same topic.

The MLK Foundation site includes an amazing array of artifacts, including a draft of the Dream speech.

Reason on civil rights.

Reason on copyright.

Here's a version of the speech that is up on YouTube. Fifty years on, it remains nothing less than stunning.