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
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.