Wednesday, 25 January 2017

You cannot quote certain speeches without paying a fee

I only became aware of this recently when I read an article in a newspaper that said that the speech, I Have A Dream spoken on August 28th 1963 by Martin Luther King Jr (MLK) when he was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial addressing 250,000 followers is not in the public domain.  This means that you have to pay his family money to publish his statement in a book, newspaper and/or a magazine.                              

The term “public domain” is described as follows. Anything that has already been published is in the public domain in the sense that it is available to the public. Once published, news and information in books are both in the public domain even though they may also be copyrighted

As an example, The Huffington Post paid the King family money in order to literally publish the entire speech. For this reason, I can quote some of what was published in that newspaper in this article.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.    
 I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

His speech was truly one of the greatest speeches ever given anywhere and at any time.

The new film Selma has sparked a bitter public debate, mostly concerning the film’s representation of President Lyndon Johnson’s stance on voting rights and how much artistic license is appropriate for a biopic (a movie also shown as a  documentary) centering on a major historical event.

However what is less discussed is the degree to which the MLK estate’s tough stance on copyright affected the historical accuracy of the film—and has affected many other films and books before it. What is lost when a biopic cannot take full advantage of its main character’s rhetorical brilliance? And what alternatives are available for filmmakers that want to produce a film involving historical events?

The film’s numerous scenes of King delivering powerful speeches regarding civil rights all had to be paraphrased, (instead of literal quotes) because the MLK estate has already licensed the film rights in those speeches to DreamWorks and Warner Bros., for an MLK documentary which Steven Spielberg is slated to produce.

In all likelihood, the MLK family and DreamWorks and Warner Bros., had an agreement that the rights wouldn’t pass onto another film company.

The litigious MLK estate, controlled now by King’s descendants, has a long history of employing the copyright law to restrict the use of King’s speeches. The estate appears to have two objectives: maximize their revenue and control King’s image. In the 1990s, the estate sued USA Today for publishing the full text of the “I Have a Dream” speech.

The newspaper quickly settled by paying for a license and attorneys’ fees. The estate then sued CBS for including footage of the speech in a segment of its documentary series; The 20th Century with Mike Wallace.

In its defense in court, CBS argued that the speech had entered into the public domain because King had not complied with the notice and registration requirements of the Copyright Act of 1909. The trial court agreed with CBS, but an appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision and ruled in favor of the MLK estate on narrow technical grounds.

 Although the speech was delivered to a live audience of several hundred thousand people and broadcast to millions more, the appellate court treated the delivery of the speech as only a limited publication of the underlying text that did not trigger the 1909 Act’s notice and registration requirements.

The MLK estate also sued the producers of Eyes on the Prize, an Emmy-winning documentary series on the civil rights movement, for the use of unlicensed footage of King’s speeches. This litigation settled when the producers reportedly paid the estate $100,000. Because of this dispute (and similar issues with other rights-holders), the series was out of circulation from 1993 to 2006, when PBS finally renewed most of the rights and edited the remaining unlicensed footage. 

During the summer of 2013, as the nation was celebrating the 50th  anniversary of the March on Washington, the MLK estate restricted broadcasts of “I Have a Dream,” but it did not lock down the speech altogether. It authorized sales of DVDs of the speech, and it licensed AT&T to use segments of the speech in cell phone ads. Over the years, the MLK estate has also licensed King’s speeches to be used in ads by Alcatel, Apple, Chevrolet and Mercedes. And it received over $700,000 from the foundation erecting the MLK Memorial in Washington, D.C., for the right to use MLK’s speeches and likeness in the Memorial.

How is it that a family estate can control the use of speeches so central to American history 51 years after their delivery and 48 years after King’s tragic assassination?    

One reason is that MLK was a private citizen. Had he been a federal government official when he wrote his speeches, those writings would always have been in the public domain. But because he was an extraordinary national political figure who was not a federal employee, the copyrights belonged to him and passed to his estate upon his death.                   

Another issue is that the term of copyright protection has grown increasingly long. The first copyright act adopted by Congress in 1790 provided a term of protection of 14 years after first publication that could be renewed for an additional 14 years, for a total of 28 years. The initial purpose of the exclusive rights granted by the copyright law was to provide authors with an economic incentive to create works for the public good. At the same time, the duration of the author’s monopoly was limited so as to enable other authors to build on the first artist’s work. 

Thanks to aggressive lobbying by publishers, the estates of authors and, more recently, the motion picture studios, Congress has repeatedly extended the copyright term. In 1831, Congress extended it to two 21-year periods after first publication for a total of 42 years; and in 1909, Congress extended the term to two 28-year periods for a total of 56 years. Then, in the 1976 Copyright Act, in an effort to harmonize U.S. law with the international law of the Berne Convention, Congress lengthened the copyright term to the life of the author plus 50 years. In 1998, Congress added 20 more years of protection, to the life of the author plus 70 years, citing the law of the European Union as an international precedent.

The extensions have always been retroactive, applying to works already in existence. Thus, King’s speeches and other writings will not enter the public domain until at least 70 years after his death: January 1, 2039.

Much of this above information I got from the Political Magazine

Here is an interesting question. Can a terrorist who publishes a manifesto in which he states why he is killing people, claim that his written statement is protected by copyright law especially when he hasn’t been tried in court as of yet and therefore, cannot be published without his permission?   

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