January 21, 2013

Video of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech removed on Internet Freedom Day


The perversity of copyright overreach was on display last week when footage of Martin Luther King‘s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech was removed from the digital video site Vimeo.

Andrew Couts on Digital Trends writes that on January 18th — World Internet Freedom Day — the speech was uploaded to Vimeo by Internet freedom advocacy group Fight for the Future. Internet Freedom Day was created in honor of the successful anti-Stop Online Privacy Act and the Protect IP Act campaign.

On uploading the video, Fight for the Future had urged people to share the video as a “small act of civil disobedience.”

Footage of Martin Luther King’s legendary speech is owned by EMI Publishing, who have been particularly litigious in defending their interests on the recommendation of the King estate.

According to Couts,

“This is far from the first copyright dispute over “I Have a Dream.” Dr. King originally secured copyright for the speech in September of 1963, approximately one month after delivering the address … But in 1994, CBS aired footage it shot of the March, which contained about 60 percent of “I Have a Dream.” This resulted in a lawsuit by Dr. King’s family. In 1999, a U.S. District judge ruled that the King estate does have copyright claim to “I Have a Dream” (PDF), and the King estate settled with CBS out of court.

Eventually, copyright management of the “I Have a Dream” copyright was transferred to EMI. And in 2009, managers of the King estate asked the company to begin enforcing its copyright of the speech by forcing online video copies, and even reproductions of the text, offline.”

There is no small irony in footage of a speech so vitally important to US history being unable to be freely shared, no less on Internet Freedom Day. Also, isn’t it ridiculous that Americans should have to pay, especially EMI, a British-owned company, to watch a piece of cultural heritage?

As Tiffany Chen, co-founder of Fight for the Future, told Digital Trends,

“Hardly anyone wants to live in a world where something as inspirational and educational as Dr. King’s speech can’t be shared,” wrote Chen. “And, Internet Freedom Day is about that. Learning and seeking knowledge is at the heart of what the internet is about it, and we’re asking people to see and share the best of what has to be learned, albeit doing that it is illegal.”



Ariel Bogle is a publicist at Melville House.