Let Freedom Ka-Ching! On The 50th Anniversary Of 'I Have A Dream,' AT&T Can Use The Speech To Sell Phones, But You Can't Post It

from the belongs-in-the-public-domain dept

As you hopefully are aware, today is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s powerful, moving and memorable I have a dream… speech. In a just world, that speech would be in the public domain. And, legally, it might be. While King did apparently send a copy of the speech to the Copyright Office, he did so as an “unpublished work.” There has been a dispute, then, about the speech itself, since that would be a publication. His estate, however, has argued that the speech was not a “general publication,” but rather a “limited publication” and thus King retained a common law copyright — and an appeals court appeared to agree, but the lawsuit over this was settled without a final ruling, and no one has challenged it since. However, King’s estate has been ridiculously aggressive in trying to lock up his speeches and take down videos commemorating his talks, with a focus on this momentous speech.

Of course, they’re more than happy to license the speech to the highest bidder — which is why the speech has been used to sell cars and mobile phone service — but if you were to post it yourself to share it and honor his memory, expect a DMCA takedown. This should bother you. The speech and the legacy of Dr. King are not available for you and I to use, but giant telcos can pay thousands of dollars for the privilege. While there’s a strong fair use argument that the speech can be used as “a historical artifact” in such situations as today, very few people feel like testing that theory in court.

Law professor James Boyle finds the whole situation quite ridiculous, and has expressed his dismay with the fact that this speech is now tied to commercialism, rather than for the celebration of civil rights. In response, he’s penned a “revised” version of the speech, entitled, (EM)I Has A Dream in honor of the fact that the King family has partnered with EMI to “administer” the copyright on the speech. The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s a snippet:

Five tens of years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, wrote this speech. This momentous oratory came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of African-Americans. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. Fifty years later, that speech still is not free. Fifty years later, the life of the speech is still sadly crippled by the manacles of corporate ownership and the chains of take-down letters. Fifty years later, the speech lives on a lonely island of property rights in the midst of a vast ocean of the culture it influenced. And I say, let freedom ring. Not the chirpy ring of the Cingular wireless phone his words were actually used to advertise, but the idea of freedom for which he stood.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and actually use the words of this speech.

Then, and only then, we will be able to say, “We have a dream. And no one owns it. Free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Today should be a day on which we celebrate this speech. It’s a depressing statement of the state of copyright law that doing so in the most appropriate way may actually be against the law.

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Comments on “Let Freedom Ka-Ching! On The 50th Anniversary Of 'I Have A Dream,' AT&T Can Use The Speech To Sell Phones, But You Can't Post It”

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Rikuo (profile) says:

Not that I’m a Christian, but I can find a great parallel between this and Jesus. Jesus, according to the New Testament, went into a Jewish temple and was enraged when he saw traders and merchants there. He trashed the place because (at least according to the official meaning, and take your pick of which Christian denomination) this was taking a holy place, a place meant to bring inner peace and understanding…and reducing it to a crass financial centre.

Same here. MLK’s speech is one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century and helped usher in civil rights for minorities, but HIS OWN SON wants to lock away this powerful piece of oratory and sell access to it. This is one time I wish resurrection was possible, so Daddy Martin could come back and bitch-slap his son.

out_of_the_blue says:

Re: @ "Rikuo": Actually, money-changers...

It’s not “traders and merchants”. You got the major point wrong and mistake the lesson.

The temple wouldn’t take ordinary currency, so in order to make the (mandatory) offerings one had to first exchange real money for “temple money”. Total ripoff and double scam by middlemen in cahoots with those running the even bigger scam of religion.

So too, I’m for “traders and merchants” and against sheer manipulation of currency.

By the way, heard this recently from Webster Tarpley (don’t know if orginal but succinct): “Economics is about production, not about money.”

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re: @ "Rikuo": Actually, money-changers...

Read the actual passages
Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-46; and John 2:13-17.

and while they do make mention of money-changers, there’s also mention of merchants directly selling animals for sacrifice. So the moral lesson, about taking a place of worship and turning it into a crass commercial centre, still stands.

Joe Dirt says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Seems he was the exception in the family eh?”

While I am 100% in agreement of his contributions to the civil rights movement, and I agree that his speech is one of the greatest of the 20th century, the apples, unfortunately, do not fall far from the tree.

MLK was a known adulterer, some of the trysts were even recorded by the FBI. (The FBI investigated him for several years, even installing wire taps and video cameras in his hotel rooms.) The FBI tried to poison his marriage by sending a copy of some of the recordings to him, but his wife heard them first and chose to ignore the Fed’s attempts to sabotage their relationship.

Were he alive today and in the public eye, he would have been defamed and left for dead by the current media machines.

AzureSky (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

or, like with clinton, most people would just shake their heads and say “who cares” only the real zelots would give a fuck….

i would bet his wife knew long before the tapes that he was like that, and, if like some women I know, she may not have cared much….

I had a teacher who met MLK and even worked with him back then(old fellow who was a history teacher), said king was like any other man, had his faults and flaws, and never claimed he didnt, but he was also known to be kind and giving, the teacher I had was an athiest and said king knew it and joked about it rather then being like some who hated him for it.

wish he was still alive(the teacher) had I been more mature back then I would have recorded his stories and words about the movement, he wasnt close to king really but, he also was involved with some others way back then who he had stories about, they in the end are the ones who enspired him to become a teacher.

one thing he said alot was king and the rest all hated war, and they all opposed the vietnam war strongly.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Adultery is a matter of perspective. Biologically we were not meant to be monogamists (whatever u write that). It’s a trait imposed by societal and religious standards. We don’t know how things were between him and his wife but I do know a few women that know their husbands cheat on them but let it slip because their men are incredibly caring towards them, their children etc. I also know couples that have an active agreement to allow some healthy variations in their sexual menu.

It’s quite the nuanced topic. You cannot judge a man merely by his supposed adultery.

out_of_the_blue says:

Today we all have a technocratic nightmare.

Largely based on greed, which is the motive here. — But on other hand, I don’t want EVERY yahoo using the speech to sell crap.

In any case, LACK of this speech due to mis-used copyright is minor compared to the opposite extreme of Facebook*, Google, and Yahoo, among many others, taking the position that everything you make or do is theirs to “monetize”.

Nor is it reasonable for mega-pirates like Megalupload to be able to get money from infringed copyright.

Reciting a multiplicity of wrongs doesn’t mean that Mike is right in any area. He needs to say explicitly how to FIX the “broken” systems.

The phony deal that evil people (and gullible fools) try to force on us: You can’t have the benefits of technology unless give up all privacy.

[ * Intentionally put Facebook first to show that I’m not focused solely on Google: both lead in various ways of invading privacy.]

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Today we all have a technocratic nightmare.

He needs to say explicitly how to FIX the “broken” systems.

He has. Multiple times. For the last 15 years or so.

Maybe you should spend some of the time you waste commenting on every new article (with mostly useless and inane messages, no less) and actually read through historical articles here. You might actually learn something.

I’m still trying to figure out what makes you tick, Blue. It’s obvious by the way you need to discredit every article that Techdirt scares you. I just can’t fathom why. Are you jealous of Techdirt’s popularity? Are you a bitter failed blogger who doesn’t get any page views? Does Techdirt sway and influence on certain groups make you uneasy for some reason? I just don’t get your unhealthy obsession with something you obviously don’t like.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Today we all have a technocratic nightmare.

You just want details because then you can shoot holes in it. As long as he discusses general policy, he doesn’t provide a good target.

He shouldn’t provide details, because as you liked to remind us, he isn’t a lawyer. Meaning writing LAW isn’t his strong suit. He is an economist, as you so like to point out, and all he should indicate is potential policy talking points which lawyers make into law. As for what policies we should implement I point you, once again, to my previous response to this demand of yours:


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Today we all have a technocratic nightmare.

I’m not seeing how those two are ‘opposite extremes.’ It seems in both the case of this speech and the case of Facebook, Google, and Yahoo you have copyrights being used to control and monetize content by third parties that didn’t contribute to its creation in anything but the most tangential of ways. Hardly opposites, these two problems are two of a kind and that the common cause of all problems of this kind is that copyrights exist and are transferable to third parties.

Anonymous annoyed coward says:

Didn't he copy most this speech from someone else?

I read somewhere a couple years ago that he copied most of this from someone else. I bet some googling would show up the write-up’s from some of the radical right wingers.

If he copied it, there’s no way it should be copyrighted by the King family.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Didn't he copy most this speech from someone else?

He didn’t copy it.

King did plagiarize portions of his PHD dissertation, and portions of that dissertation were used as a basis for parts of his Dream speech, but that’s as close as it gets.

BTW, his problem with plagiarism in his academic papers wasn’t noticed until after his death, and was clearly a case of being habitually sloppy at attribution, not a case of intentionally trying to take other people’s words as his own.

Sea Man says:

Something, something, not responsible for what users post...

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.

But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four 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.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Anonymous Coward says:

Even more ironic is how the speech was also about economic inequality and how whites had things rigged to keep African Americans poor and down.

So now they’re using the speech to get rich, and use the power of copyright to ‘take down’ unauthorized uses of the speech.

Could there be more ironically awful way to use King’s speech for the exact opposite of it’s intended purpose?

Ninja (profile) says:

Honestly? I’d not buy anything from a company that used the speech in such a way. If it wasn’t paid, if it was public domain it’s one thing but this is a complete travesty of this fine speech. This shitty estate is one of the reasons I think copyright is so damn broken that the only way out is to fully abolish it despite the fact I see the usefulness of copyrights if applied in a proper, non biased towards a rotten industry manner.

It’s incredibly hard to reduce consumption from asshole companies when they do it spectacularly right in terms of quality. AT&T doesn’t seem to fit that category though.

Anonymous Coward says:

I am still befuddled at how public organs can endorse a profit seeking entity like this. It would be like having an official Kelloggs day or a Microsoft day with political endorsement.

Of course the problem is that the profit seeking entity is hijacking a public day, but since no politician would ever dream (pun intended) of touching the holy copyright, the enshrinement of the day must go!

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