Friday, August 23, 2013

Martin Luther King, Jr. copyrights

Here are a couple of pieces that talk about the controversies over legal rights to historical material relating to Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Rebecca Burns, Interview: Bernice King (includes introductory article) Atlanta Magazine (Aug 2013)

Lauren Williams, I Have a Copyright: The Problem With MLK's Speech Mother Jones 08/23/2013


The copyright enterprise — the estate King Inc., and Intellectual Properties Management, which licenses King’s works and image — has been managed for years by Dexter, the younger son, a sometime actor and producer who lives in Los Angeles. While most Americans may believe MLK belongs to history, the tangible stuff he left behind—books, recordings, letters, and indeed his very likeness—remains the property of his heirs. For instance, the family holds the copyright to King's "I Have a Dream" speech through 2038; if a news outlet wants to rebroadcast the speech in its entirety, the fee is at least $1,700. The King monument, a thirty-foot sculpture of the preacher carved out of granite in Washington, D.C., cost private benefactors and taxpayers $120 million; a portion of the cost — $800,000 — went to Intellectual Properties Management for the license to MLK’s crossed-arm likeness and to inscribe his quotes on the statue’s base.
Bernice, King's daughter who is also a minister, has this to say in the interview about her parents:

My father was one of the most hated men in America in 1968 when he was assassinated, and now you can look around forty-five years later and he is one of the most loved men in the world. And you could say that different things contributed to that, but I think the main factor was the steadfastness and devotion and dedication and sacrificial commitment of my mother to carry on his work after his assassination.
Williams writes on the copyright controversies:

Due to the well-known lawsuits against news organizations and other smaller legal scuffles, King's children have a reputation for maintaining a level of control over their father's legacy that is rigorous at best and avaricious at worst. Critics, including civil rights icon Julian Bond, bristle over the fact that "I Have a Dream" is kept under strict watch in the name of controlling King's image at the same time it's licensed by rich companies for use in TV commercials, including a 2010 Mercedes-Benz spot, an Alcatel ad, and a particularly galling 2001 Cingular Wireless campaign that also included quotes from Kermit the Frog and Homer Simpson.

Representatives from the King family did not respond to requests for comment, but in the 2007 book Children of the Movement, King's son, Martin Luther King III, denied that he and his siblings are trying to profit from their father's image and said that there are numerous licensing requests that they reject. But they are forever haunted by comparisons to their dad, who eschewed personal wealth. "My father gave away everything," he said. "He didn't worry about money. People expect us to be like him." But the issue for copyright reform advocates, historians, and journalists is not so much whether the King family is making money, but how to negotiate the general sense that the works and image of King have such an educational and historical resonance - particularly on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington-—-that it seems preposterous that the copyright on his speech is so strictly enforced.

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