Harry Belafonte Sues Martin Luther King Jr.'s Heirs In Yet Another Fight Over 'Ownership' Of His Words

from the sued-at-last,-sued-at-least... dept

We've covered how Martin Luther King Jr.'s heirs have a long and unfortunate history of being over-aggressive enforcers of the intellectual property of their father -- not for the good of society and civil rights, but rather for revenue maximization. At times it's reached ridiculous levels, and the latest is that the famed singer Harry Belafonte is now suing MLK's heirs after they've spent years blocking his attempt to sell (for charity) some documents that Belafonte received from King and King's wife. King's heirs argue that Belafonte got these documents through questionable means and they belong to the estate. The details suggest, yet again, that this is just yet another fight where the King heirs are so focused on ownership that they don't seem to care about anything else.
Mr. Belafonte, who often supported the King family financially during the civil rights struggle, said the dispute pains him. He said in his view, Dr. King’s children had drifted away from their father’s values. “The papers are symbolic,” he said. “It’s really about what happened to the children, and I feel that somewhere, in this one area, I really failed Martin.”
Of course, what isn't clearly delineated in the NYT article about all this is the difference between ownership of the documents and the holding the copyright on the contents. Late in the article, a lawyer claims it's about the copyright:
Clarence B. Jones, Dr. King’s lawyer and close friend, said the King family had every right to protect its copyright.
However, it doesn't seem like this fight has anything to do with copyright at all. After all, the copyright doesn't change hands with the letter (and the King estate almost certainly doesn't hold the copyright in the letter from President Lyndon B. Johnson to Mrs. King, which is included in the documents they're fighting over). Furthermore, even if Belafonte had the documents that included works that were potentially covered by copyright for King, the copyright would still remain with the King estate, but Belafonte could still sell the physical documents under the first sale doctrine.

That said, given how aggressive the King estate has been over copyright as well as physical ownership of documents (they went after Boston University to get back a trove of documents King had directly donated to the school), it shows yet again how copyright is a tool that is used all too often for control, rather than for "the progress of science" as prescribed by the Constitution.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    lucidrenegade (profile), Oct 18th, 2013 @ 5:46pm

    Do these people have jobs, or are they just leeching off MLK's legacy?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 6:14pm

    Copyrights destroy families.
    All that greed, all that power, all that anger.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    dave blevins (profile), Oct 18th, 2013 @ 6:23pm

    Shows what can happen if "copyright" survives the original author. Copyright should be lessor of 20years of death of original author.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 7:30pm

    King Estate Debauchers

    Dear King Descendants

    I have some really bad news for you. The words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are already in my head. I know you think you own them, but they are in my head. I am not the only one who has your fathers words in their head. There are likely millions who have his words in their heads.

    Come and get them.

    Regards,

    All of us who respect culture over money

    PS Good luck with that!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Wolfy, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 7:33pm

    Re: Jobs?

    It doesn't look like it, since the MAFIAAs got going. They (The King children) saw a gravy train and climbed aboard.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 7:47pm

    Sounds like the Scrooge family at work. I hope they enjoy hatching the papers, 'cuz no one's gonna want anything to do with the family or the "copyrights" when they get done trying to screw everybody.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Oct 18th, 2013 @ 8:06pm

    So, someone remind me what public good is enabled by copyright extending beyond the creator's lifetime again, because I seem to have either forgotten or missed it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    kenichi tanaka (profile), Oct 18th, 2013 @ 8:08pm

    I think somebody forget to point the King heirs/estate to the recent Supreme Court decision (March 2013) that protects the resale rights.

    Thai citizen Supap Kirtsaeng appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to protect his rights when textbook publisher John Wiley & Sons tried to use copyright law to halt Kirtsaeng.

    The King heirs are trying to use copyright law in order to acquire the physical ownership of the documents.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 8:17pm

    It is sad to see this. Truly sad.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 8:53pm

    Re:

    Absolutely NO public good. The only benefactors are the "owners" of the copyrights. It allows them to continue extracting "Licensing Fees", maybe forever the way things are going.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 8:56pm

    Re:

    Yes, it is sad, but maybe this is what's needed, these cries of "Mine, IT'S ALL MINE", to get the attention of the public and Congress to do something about it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    roarshock44, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 11:48pm

    most bothersome thing to me is the thought there may actually be an afterlife.  if so, and if those in the afterlife can follow what goes on here, i don't like the thought of dr king following this.

    if, unlike him, i think all that is hogwash, i guess i don't too much care, except it is pretty unseemly and demeans the good man's name while troubling some good people who don't deserve it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Robert, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 2:07am

    Re:

    You watch, they will sell the editing rights to right wing conservatives, so they can change everything that Martin Luther King, wrote or said. It's only a matter of time and money.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Bergman (profile), Oct 19th, 2013 @ 3:07am

    Re: King Estate Debauchers

    We can dream, right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Martin Luther King Jr., Oct 19th, 2013 @ 4:51am

    I have a dream

    I had a bad dream that my children will make a profit from my words.
    I had a bad dream that men will be judged by the contents of their bank accounts not by the content of their character.

    I have a dream that one day my children will read my speeches and live by the values I sought to teach this great nation so they can free their souls from the devils grasp that is fed by the deadly sin of greed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    tomthetoe, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 5:38am

    Copyright as a tool.

    it shows yet again how copyright is a tool that is used all too often by tools to show everyone how much of a tool they are.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 7:56am

    MLK never would of done all that civil rights stuff if it weren't for copyright...
    see, the system works!
    we need MORE copyright laws so that we can have more civil rights...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Pixelation, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 9:01am

    Re: I have a dream

    "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. "

    They should be careful. Their character is starting to show.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    IP Lawyer, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 9:46am

    First Sale Doctrine

    17 USC 109 obviates this entire dispute. This is completely within the bounds of first sale doctrine, and, frankly, the King family has no argument that holds water, in my estimation.

    There is always the possibility I'm wrong, but I'd argue first sale in any follow-up dispute about this, and, the strong odds are that a judge would agree with me in a pre-trial motion to dismiss.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 10:21am

    "Dream" march/rally

    Not to mention that king was only one of the speakers in that rally, and the organizers have been long overlooked. I even hear a couple of them were/are atheists!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    Moron Labia, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 6:53pm

    Intellectual Property Rights

    Why is it, that people only get upset over abuse of copyright is when uppity negroes are perpetrating the said abuse?

    I say, That's Capitalism and More Power To Them!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    Vincent Clement (profile), Oct 20th, 2013 @ 7:09am

    Re: Re:

    Most things will not get the attention of the public because most things have marginal impact on their daily lives. The American people have been told that they have been spied upon for years, yet there are no major demonstrations, no public-wide calls for immediate changes to how government works. Nothing. Nada.

    Congress? It's easier to the get the attention of a cat than Congress.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    Arioch (profile), Oct 20th, 2013 @ 5:33pm

    Copyright Stupidity

    When MLK delivered his speeches, I am sure that it is beyond doubt that he wanted as may people as possible to hear what he had to say, to quote him, and build upon the foundations that he laid.

    Somehow I doubt that he would say "you must pay to use my words"

    Shame on those that seek to profit from this Icon of the modern world

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 21st, 2013 @ 6:24am

    Re:

    Copyright leads to fear, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    PRMan, Oct 21st, 2013 @ 7:47am

    Re: Re: I have a dream

    Not to worry Dr. King! We don't hate them because they're black, we hate them because they are massive douchebags. Mission accomplished.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 21st, 2013 @ 12:37pm

    Re: First Sale Doctrine

    As I understand it, this is less about overt IP law than it is about whether or not Belafonte legitimately owns the documents. I think the King estate is arguing that Belafonte stole the documents and is therefore not the legal owner.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    BernardoVerda (profile), Oct 21st, 2013 @ 11:48pm

    Re: Copyright Stupidity

    Can some one explain to me, how historical speeches (a.k.a. "news") and events can be locked up behind copyright?

    I've been wondering about this ever since that television advert based on King's famous, downright iconic "I have a dream" speech to a big crowd, in front of news cameras, and biographers and documentary-film makers being held for ransom by the King estate-- how can a historical event and historical record like this be controlled by copyright holders / "IP owners"?.

    Allowing copyright to be applied this way seems un-sane, at the least.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    steven, Nov 7th, 2013 @ 3:53am

    He is known as one of the greatest if not the greatest speech writers as well as deliberators of all time. I've written about him in my blog Public speaking

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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