“I Have A Dream”

"I Have a Dream" by Martin Luther King Jr ©1963

“I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King Jr ©1963

Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I have a dream” speech is protected by copyright.  Because it is only 50 years old, it would not be in the Public Domain today, even under PD56 rules, so I’m cheating a little by including it here.  But it is an interesting example of how copyright works … or arguably doesn’t.

Shortly after delivering the speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King filed for copyright on the speech, and his heirs have enforced it.  Excerpts from it are routinely used under “fair use” provisions that allow reproduction of a portion of a copyrighted word for the purpose of commentary.  But not the entire speech.

You can buy an authorized DVD of it for $20 from the King Center, which goes to support a worthy organization, I’m sure.  But it still seems … problematic that such a culturally and historically important speech is not available to the public.

Under PD56, the speech would enter the Public Domain at the end of 2019.  Under current US law, it won’t be until 2038.

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