Throwback Thursday: MLK Copyrighted His Dream

Fifty-one years have passed since the historical March on Washington, but Americans everywhere still know Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream: “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.” But how many know that speech is not in the public domain? It’s actually copyrighted. This Throwback Thursday, let’s take a look at Dr. King’s famous speech, why it’s not in the public domain and what brands have opted to license the rights to the speech.

As one of the most important addresses in American history, how could “I have a dream” not fall in the public domain?

Well, Dr. King himself copyrighted the speech and broadcast well before his assassination. In fact, just months after he delivered this speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King sued Mister Maestro, Inc. and Twentieth Century Fox Records Company for selling unauthorized copies of his speech. And, as the speech was his intellectual property, he had that right.

The estate still owns the speech (along with several others) as well as the recorded delivery. In 1999, the license was challenged again, but a judge ruled that despite the fact that the King addressed 250,000 during the March on Washington, the speech was a performance distributed first to the news media and not to the public, making it a ‘limited’ rather than a ‘general’ publication,” according to Motherboard’s Alex Pasternack.

Illegal copies of the speech have made their way onto YouTube and other websites, but for legal copies, the King family still “charges media organizations and scholars who want to use Dr. King’s words or image for publication or broadcast,” according to CBS.

But the copyright also gives way for advertisers to pay to license King’s “Dream” (which is exactly what Alcatel did in 2001 to use a part of his speech in an ad). Although, this fact has sparked some controversy, as some believe that would go against Dr. King’s wishes.

At any rate, “I have a dream,” is one of the greatest speeches ever written, so why shouldn’t Dr. King have copyrighted it?

Do you think Dr. King’s speech should be used in ads? Tell us in the comments.

Cover Photo Source: ags1973 / Shutterstock.com

Cassandra is a Content Manager and Developer at SJG. She earned her BA from Fontbonne University in 2011. Outside the office, she enjoys an active, healthy and well-rounded lifestyle including reading, writing, running, golfing, watching films, listening to music, taking photographs, and consuming media and social media.