King’s `I Have A Dream’ Speech Belongs To The Public, Judge Rules
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech belongs to the public, and CBS News did not infringe copyright by reproducing it for a documentary series, a federal judge recently ruled.
“As one of the most public and most widely disseminated speeches in history, it could be the poster child for general publication,” U.S. District Judge William O. Kelley said in ruling against the King estate, which sued CBS News.
King made the speech on Aug. 28, 1963, before 200,000 people at a civil rights rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. King successfully applied for a copyright of his speech the next month.
But Judge O’Kelley concluded that the civil rights leader forfeited any copyright interest in the speech when he distributed advance copies without any copyright notice to news organizations, placed no restrictions on what use could be made of the speech and generally encouraged wide distribution of it.
Judge O’Kelley added that the speech at Lincoln Memorial “was made available to members of the public at large without regard to who they were or what they proposed to do with it.”
CBS signed a contract with the Arts and Entertainment Network in 1994 to produce a series called “The 20th Century With Mike Wallace.” A segment contained film coverage of the speech, prompting the lawsuit.
“We took on this case to protect the public’s right to know about major events of historical significance,” said CBS News President Andrew Heyward. “This decision means that Dr. King’s landmark speech is truly in the public domain, where it belongs. It is not CBS News, but the American public that won today.”
Attorney Joseph M. Beck said the King estate is likely to appeal.
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