Martin Luther King, copyright, and the content of his children’s character

January 23, 2013 by Joshua
in Blog, Freedom

Last August, many reported on the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech. One of my favorite sites which concerns itself with copyright, started a conversation, “The copyright nightmare of ‘I Have A Dream“, on how the speech, which was broadcast in a way that would seemingly make it part of the public domain, ended up copyrighted.

Please read that conversation for many views on how this case illustrates how copyright law has been distorted from its original intent to starve the public domain it was supposed to help fill.

You’ll see a couple points there on related issues, for example, how MLK’s heirs are squabbling among themselves over the rights as well as charging others for using his words in ways you’d expect MLK would have disapproved.

Particularly cutting are a few remarks that note the irony of his children’s behavior drawing almost inevitable judgment. As one poster wrote about their behavior:

“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…”

For me, that was always the climax of King’s speech… the line that made me tear up; the line that brought a lump to my throat.


Just another sad instance of, “Be careful what you wish for.”


Another wrote:

The good news is that you are judging them, not by the color of their skin, but by the quality of their character.

The bad news is the quality of their character.

As much satisfaction attacking his heirs brings, and however deserved, from a systems perspective, they’re just doing what makes sense. The government created a monopoly for them. Why shouldn’t they benefit from it?

The situation seems a clear illustration of how broken the U.S. copyright system is.

Some more links to his children’s squabbling, including links to more mainstream reporting on it:

Ever since their mother’s death, MLK’s children have done nothing but fight over the rights in regards to their father, and the profits to be gained by selling them. For instance, in regards to a proposed MLK movie: “Bernice King and her eldest brother, Martin III, say they are “taking action” against their estranged sibling, Dexter, who is chief executive of the King estate, because he apparently decided to negotiate the entire film deal with Spielberg and Dreamworks without attempting to seek their permission.” ( And notice how Dexter is the chief executive of the estate. That means he is entirely within his rights to negotiate a movie deal on behalf of the estate. Book deals and memoirs regarding MLK and Coretta King, worth millions of dollars, have been lost due to infighting and court battles (—-two-children.php)(

It’s really very sad. MLK certainly did a great thing for this country, centered around the march and his “I Have A Dream” speech. However, it seems his children have a dream as well: to make as much money off their father’s legacy. I would be willing to bet that MLK, were he still alive, would be ashamed of how is children are acting.

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1 response to “Martin Luther King, copyright, and the content of his children’s character

  1. Pingback: Schindler’s List, brought to you by Ford » Joshua Spodek

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