The Great Martin Luther King Copyright Conundrum

Believe it or not, to legally watch that famous Martin Luther King I Have a Dreamspeech — arguably one of the most hallowed moments in American history — costs $10 thanks to the twisted state of United States copyright law. In related news, happy Martin Luther King Day!

The news of how MLK’s most famous moment costs money to watch is not a new one. But given the dramatic rise of the issue of digital rights, thanks largely in part to the dramatic controversy surrounding the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the story seems unusually prescient this year. Alex Pasternack, the editor of Vice‘s tech site, Motherboard, blogged about the issue on a few months back:

If you weren’t alive to witness Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech on the Washington Mall 48 years ago this week, you might try to switch on the old YouTube and dial it up. But you won’t find it there or anywhere else; rights to its usage remain with King and his family…

At the family’s Web site, videotapes and audiotapes of the speech can be purchased for $10 a piece. The family controls the copyright of the speech for 70 years after King’s death, in 2038

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