Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Martin Luther King, Jr.

I had wanted to post this yesterday, but a combination of nature and Connecticut Light & Power's incompetence resulted in my being without power from Saturday night to late Monday night, and that was the least of the problems caused by the storm. It will be some time and many thousands of dollars until things are back to normal.

Among the many things written about Dr. King's birthday, only one article I saw, in the Washington Post, dealt with the copyright issues over his "I had a Dream Speech, and then briefly. In 1963, a district judge in the Southern District of New York engaged in pretzel-like contortions to avoid fofeiture, King v. Mister Maestro, Inc., 224 F. Supp. 101 (S.D.N.Y. 1963). A more results-oriented law and facts be damned opinion would be hard to find.

A rational view on this subject was expressed by the trial court in Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc. v. CBS Inc., 13 F. Supp.2d 1347 (N.D. Ga. 1998), which held that the speech was in the public domain through general publication without notice. Citing the fact that King had (understandably) encouraged the widest possible press coverage and dissemination of copies of the speech (and without limitation on reproduction), the Georgia trial court rightly characterized these activities as "almost epitomiz[ing] the definition of a general publication." The opinion was not, though, free of error; in particular, the trial court mistakenly considered the public performance of the speech as a factor pointing toward a general publication. This was reversible error, and indeed, the Eleventh Circuit subsequently reversed.

The majority opinion in the Eleventh Circuit, by Chief Judge Anderson, was careful to note that its decision took place in the context of the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant, CBS. CBS could, the court observed, still prevail on general publication grounds if certain facts involving authorized publication were established. Nevertheless, there was more than enough in the record to support the district court's decision: the distribution of multiple copies of King's speech to members of the press, without notice, and without restriction on its further distribution, clearly resulted in a general publication. The court of appeals expressed concern that "an author whose message happens to be newsworthy" should not be forced "to choose between obtaining news coverage for his work and preserving his common-law copyright." Dr. King could, however, have easily accomplished both goals by restricting further distribution of copies. Or, alternatively, he could have opted for the widest possible dissemination and federal protection merely by placing a copyright notice on the copies. The court of appeals' solicitude for Dr. King is understandable (although why this sympathy should extend to his estate is unclear, given its rather aggressive commercial practices), but its stretching of the boundaries of the law should still be criticized.


Anonymous said...

The 11th circuit opinion is here:


Anonymous said...

Martin Luther King Jr.

Anonymous said...

Excellent observations. This is a very frustrating case, one in which the courts seem to have 'sold' part of our history. As a result, many Americans have never heard the Dream speech, arguably one of the finest political speeches in American history.

Ironically, it is now being heard more widely because it is posted in many different clips on YouTube, which would appear to be in violation of copyright law by hosting them.

I am torn about this because I want every American to hear this speech, as I am sure Dr. King did, but if I want to include the speech in a television documentary it is going to cost me thousands of dollars to license (if I can even get the copyright holder to quote me a price).

That means documentaries, and our nation's history, become the sole province of the rich. While YouTube rakes in ad revenue by illegally hosting copyright material. A sad state of affairs.

Anonymous said...

If it was up to me, I would go for making all of Dr. King's speeches "public domain," as the man wasn't that worried about making money from them and happens to be dead, anyway. PD might make the speeches a lot more accessible for public use and learning from them, I figure.

Okay, now that's said, has anyone else noticed that the King Center website has dozens of broken links and email addresses that when you write them, the mail gets returned as "undeliverable?" I managed to write the donations email, but two of the others were returned. It's not due to overstuffed mailboxes.

Also, the progress report for the King Center as listed on the website, latest version, is 2001-2002. It is now the end of 2007. Somebody needs to look at fixing their website, and updating their business records, apparently.

I have been trying to contact them about this, so far to little avail, by writing their general info email and their webmaster, with both letters returned. What do you think you could do about it, if anything? Your best guess...I just really wish someone would do something, before Google drops their website down to the bottoms of the search engine pages.


Unknown said...

Thank you William, for bring this to our attention, I am not that concern about the copyright issues of Dr. King Speech. I think it is a good ideal that someone posted it on YouTude, so everyone can hear it. The speech is showing up in my college textbook and in classroom across America. If Dr. King were alive today I think he would have posted the speech himself, because the message is what is important and not the potential revenue stream it might provide. One of the problems I still see with us a people today is, we are still waiting for someone to tell us its ok to celebrate the event and how to do it. Take for example my web site at www.mycrystalportrait.com, where I sell ‘personalized laser crystals’ I posted a laser crystal portrait of Martin Luther King and no one buy its, even when I post it on ebay no one even looks at it. Now, when I post a laser crystal of Elvis Presley I can’t make them fast enough. White people will buy them even if they already have one. Why, because they appreciate the important of keeping Elvis ‘Dream’ alive.