Sunday, January 15, 2006

Martin Luther King Jr.: Digitized and available illegally

A Washington Post article captures a sad reality, the family of Martin Luther King Jr. owns the copyright to his words and images, and has enforced that copyright. It is their right. Sadly, though, it means that many people cannot be as inspired by him as they might be if they could hear the audio of his speakers and read the full-text of his words. There was a time when King's "I Have a Dream" speech would be played on the radio on his birthday. (Yes, the whole thing.) Now, you only hear only snippets.

Some web sites have placed audio of Dr. King online illegally as well as made the text of his speeches available (e.g., American Rhetoric). One might argue that they are wrong for doing so. One could also argue that their illegal actions help to keep Dr. King's dreams alive.

American Rhetoric believes that its use of the speech is Fair Use. The web site says:

The site is making such material available in the effort to advance understanding of political, social, and religious issues as they relate to the study and practice of rhetoric and public address deemed relevant to the public interest and the promotion of civic discourse. believes that the nature and use of the artifacts on this site constitutes "“fair use"” of any such material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act. The material on this site is intended primarily for research and educational purposes, has been previously published, and is distributed without profit.

The amount of materials that the web site has digitized or digitally enhanced is amazing. There are some wonderful speeches here.

As we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Jan. 15 although observed on Monday in the U.S.), think about his words and his family's right to his words. Under what circumstance would you go against those rights? Do you agree with those who have digitized King's materials and made that material available? Would your project have the same conviction and guts, if it felt it was right?

Addendum (1/16/2006): This is a good biography of Dr. King here. It includes the fact that he was originally buried elsewhere and then moved to the King Center after that was built. The King Center is having fiscalal crisis and may become part of the U.S. National Park Service. There are obvious pros and cons to that...

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