Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, January 16, 2006

"I Have a Dream" Speech

In the case of Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., Inc. v. CBS, Inc., 194 F.3d 1211 (11th Cir. 1999), the court resolved a dispute about the public domain copyright status of Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech.

As summarized on Wikipedia,

when King made his speech publicly to a large audience both live and televised it had not been submitted to the Registrar of Copyright to obtain federal copyright protection. Under state law common law copyright only subsisted before publication of the work, so, it was argued that the work had been published to the general public when he gave the speech with extensive media coverage and by so doing the speech entered the public domain and could be freely copied and distributed by third parties. However, Dr. King did register the work the next month as being an unpublished work and after his death his estate filed this lawsuit in order to enforce the copyright. * * *

[The court] ruled that the public performance of his speech did not constitute "general publication" and thus by giving this speech in public he did not forfeit his copyright. Thus, King's estate is able to require a license fee for redistribution of the speech, whether in a television program, a history book, a dramatic re-enactment, or otherwise.


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