MSNBC licensed ‘I Have a Dream’ speech from King family

MSNBC will air Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech on its 50th anniversary Wednesday. MSNBC licensed the speech — which it will air after President Obama speaks this afternoon and again during Chris Hayes’ show “All In” at 8 p.m. — through King’s family, network spokesperson Lauren Skowronski tells Poynter in an email. CNN will air the speech as well.

As attorney Josh Schiller explains in a Washington Post opinion piece, King in 1963 “sent a copy of the address to the U.S. Copyright office and listed the remarks as a ‘work not reproduced for sale.’ ” His family has since “strictly enforced control over use of that speech and King’s likeness,” Schiller writes. (King’s lawyer Clarence B. Jones says he filed the application.)

The only legal way to reproduce King’s work — at least until it enters the public domain in 2038 — is to pay for a licensing fee, rates for which vary. (Individuals visiting the King Center can buy a recording of the “I have a dream” speech for $20. Licenses for media outlets run into the thousands.)

News organizations can quote or air portions of the speech under fair use doctrine, the spectacularly named intellectual-property lawyer David Sunshine tells Dustin Volz of National Journal. But the family’s strict watch on the speech’s copyright means bigger operations “are probably more inclined to pay the licensing fee than to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to test the waters on a fair-use claim,” Volz writes.

This creates a noticeable divide between television corporations that could afford to legally challenge the copyright protections (but may not want to, because they do not need to show the full speech) and others, who lack means to challenge that restriction, Sunshine said.

A group called Fight for the Future has posted the entire speech on YouTube (I wouldn’t expect this link to last very long).

The Times-Picayune published a video of New Orleans community leaders reading from the speech in their own words:

And you can always link to the text of the speech at the National Archives. Or, as ABC News does in this blog post, claim to offer “Martin Luther King’s Speech: ‘I Have a Dream’ – The Full Text” and then link to the National Archives at the bottom.

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  • Kathy Shaidle

    These plagiarism “talking points” were once confined to “white supremacist” chat rooms. Today, the topic (as well as King’s serial adultery) is approaching “everybody knows” velocity. Perhaps now someone will ask King’s litigious, avaricious estate why they charge exorbitant licensing fees for the use of his speeches in everything from academic papers to TV commercials if those words never belonged to King in the first place. Helpfully, excerpts from those speeches are carved into the memorial, inadvertently turning it into a monument to intellectual-property theft. (King’s family billed the memorial foundation $800,000 for that privilege.)

  • johndwyer

    Too bad the US MSM have emphasized the Dream speech and not emphasized the 1967 Riverside speech.