It's Internet Freedom Day: time to share MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech

Update: Holmes from Fight For the Future sez, "For Martin Luther King day, we made a video about how if SOPA had passed, you could have gone to jail for posting 'I Have a Dream'. Ironically, the video has already been taken down. Remember, if SOPA had passed, *entire sites* could have been shut down simply for linking to a video of Dr. King's historic speech."

Update 2: It's back up.

Tiffiniy from Fight For the Future sez,

A year ago today, the internet went on strike and dealt the final knockout to censorship bills in the U.S. Congress, SOPA and PIPA. To celebrate, a bunch of the people have declared January 18th, 'Internet Freedom Day.' They're asking people to help with a new holiday tradition of sharing one thing -- on their blogs or social networks -- that should never be censored. Doing that reminds us all that we can and will protect free speech on the web.

For our part at Fight for the Future, as MLK Day is coming up, we realized that one thing that we all care about deeply that faces constant censorship is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic 'I Have a Dream' speech. It's hard to find something that is as important to watch and learn from, yet since it is copyrighted until 2038, Youtube and other sites censor unabridged versions of the speech. You're supposed to wait 25 years to share it.

To celebrate both Internet Freedom Day and MLK Day, we made a video containing the complete 17-minute 'I Have a Dream' speech... so people can share it on Facebook, Twitter, and their blogs. Doing just that is a small act of civil disobedience to celebrate the freedom that Dr. King fought for and make sure his words reach people around the globe this weekend. Dr. King said, 'one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.'

Aaron Swartz passed almost a week ago today. Before that, he spent his life creating massive equality and freedom of spirit through his internet activism. Aaron and the loss of him more than ever reminds me that I am not okay with a world where when someone who is just learning about civil rights, race, and our history, goes on the web to see MLK's 'I Have a Dream' speech and is confronted with a notice that says "this video has been removed." That kind of world is untenable, and we should fight against it.

We've been reeling from Aaron's death, so we're sorry this may be the first you're hearing about Internet Freedom Day. But, please do what you can, and tell people how they can commemorate how powerful the internet-using public can be in creating and protecting our social goods.

MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech is copyrighted. Share it anyway.


  1. Martin Luther King’s speeches are not censored – they are copyrighted, and the copyrights are held by his descendants, who have a right to be supported by his work, just as he had a right to be supported by his work.

    It may be foolish and short-sighted and selfish of his descendants to enforce copyright on his work, it may be contrary to his own philosophy to monetize his words and thoughts, but also is it foolish and short-sighted and selfish and contrary to his philosophy to deny legal protection to his descendants for the financial support they were denied due to his harassment by the US government and his murder.

    It is enough to state that his speeches are, and were, important, and that they are copyrighted, and that there are a significant number of ways to legally access those speeches in a number of formats in jurisdictions where copyright on those recordings still exist.

    1. “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;”

      In the context of US copyright law, you don’t have a ‘right to be supported by your work’. Congress does have the right, if it deems it proper, to encourage you to do more work by making working more profitable; but it’s a purely mercenary(albeit a cultured sort of mercenary) option on the state’s part. If they didn’t feel like promoting the progress of science and the useful arts, or didn’t feel that copyrights were useful in that area, they’d be wholly within their rights to offer no protection whatsoever. 

      To the degree that they actually figure into copyright(outside the rhetoric of maximalists) the ‘moral right’ stuff is more of a French influence.

      1. That is a good distinction. Philosophically the Government is recognizing creativity as a resource to be managed. I’m reminded of the creation of forest preserves (now state parks). The local government at the time didn’t give a crap about ‘protecting the environment’ or ‘saving the trees’; rather they wanted to make sure that resource would continue to generate value without being overwhelmed by reckless exploitation — a protection against externalities. If properly done, copyright should incentivize creativity and dis-incentivize cheating.

        That said, I think there is a moral component to mis-appropriating someone’s work and selling it for personal gain. If there weren’t copyright laws, maybe we’d have medieval guilds or unions that would regulate that. It’s not a new problem. [To be clear, I don’t think this applies here.]

        1. Oh, it’s hard to deny that a lot of artists are getting screwed(notably the living ones, and generally with the assistance of copyright laws and the large media corporations that allegedly care so much for the poor starving artists). My point was merely that, as a philosophical matter, the US Constitution draws a clear distinction between real property and “intellectual property”. 

          The one is a right, the other is on the same level as roads or postal service employees: Congress may, if they wish, hire some guys to make a postal service. They could also see if writers would write a bit more if given exclusive rights. It’s not as though copyright was an unknown concept at the time, so if they’d meant to include something different, they could have; but they didn’t. The only goal is the promotion of the sciences and useful arts(not any sort of justice/reward) and the reward is just an optional means.

      2. You destroyed your own argument.

        “… exclusive Right to their respective writings …”, including the right to exploit them for financial gain, if they so choose, as defending making a living from the pursuit of Authorship or Art is promoting the progress thereof.

        I feel very silly even pointing this out.

      1. Of course, no one knows a historical event is major at the time it happens; nor do people always agree. But there should be someway to recognize common sense that intentionally public speech should be a public resource.

      2. His family copyrighted it back in the 90’s in order to make money meanwhile they were involved in all sorts of nefarious shenanigans here in Atlanta and suing the pants off each other to boot. Greed is bad. 

      3. It’s not the historical event that’s under copyright; it’s the text of the speech and the recording of the performance that are under their own copyright protections.

        1. Could OJ Simpson have copyrighted his car chase as a ‘performance’ and prevented news outlets from airing it?

          1. If he had, it would not prevent news reporting – there are exemptions for news reporting – and the performance was made in public.

          2.  …aaand exactly my point.  The Dream speech was given in front of 200,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial, with news crews in attendance.  It was news, and a major event, even if its historical impact was not immediately recognized.  I can’t see how copyright can apply.

          3. while “choreography” is copyrightable, it’d be quite a stretch to equate that to “low speed evasion of arrest via automobile”

    2. Personally, I think that once you broadcast something you’ve given up your right to control who sees it, when, and whether or not they pay for the privilege. Let’s say the history channel broadcasts the speech and I tape it, then I show it to every single person that comes over to my house for the next 10 years. No laws were broken, yet the result (a few hundred people saw the speech without paying for the privilege) is the same. The internet just makes it happen faster. 

      Humans are copying machines, it’s how we learn behaviour and transmit knowledge, it’s our nature to share things with each other. Making laws that contradict that nature is a fool’s errand. You cannot possibly control audio, video, or information that has been widely broadcast. If you wanted to control it you shouldn’t have broadcast it. Taking down MLK videos is just playing a pointless game of whack-a-mole. Nobody wins, all taking down a video accomplishes is inconveniencing people for awhile, and I don’t know about you but if I wanted to watch “I have a Dream” and found it taken down, that would not motivate me to go legally purchase it. You know what would motivate me to spend? Letting me watch it, then inserting information at the end about where I can get a nice archival copy on disc.

        1. Funnily enough, people who do the most downloading also spend the most money on the same type of media. Watching something for free and then buying a copy is quite common.

    3. Wow, that’s great corporatist-speak.

       Translation:  You’ve dreamed up that MLK would’ve wanted his “I Have a Dream” speech restricted and monetized so he can now get post-mortem revenge and restitution against the U.S. Government.

      What a nightmare.

      1. No – he would want his family to survive. His ability to support his family was curtailed by the US government. Asking that his family not be granted equal access to the protection of the law, now, heaps another injustice onto what they have already experienced.

        1. No

          Yes. It was a summarization of your own words. You’ve made your bed, now sleep in it.

          Also, people who don’t stand to profit from this travesty have this to say:

          Via this source:

          “I think Martin Luther King must be spinning in his grave,” Bill Rutherford, who was executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference when King was murdered, told 60 Minutes. “He gave his life for his ideas of justice, peace and love. He attempted his entire life to communicate ideas for free. To communicate, not to sell,” he says.

          Let’s face it, bardfinn, there’s other ways to compensate his family without this disgrace to his name. Also, if restricting and monetizing the speech for his family was so important to Dr. King, why didn’t he lift a finger to put it in a Will?

          1. It was /not/ my words – you said “MLK would’ve wanted…”, which appears nowhere in my words, is not implied by my words, has nothing to do with my words. It is the keystone of /your/ argument, which is (in part) a strawman of mine. I was careful to avoid entirely touching on “What would MLK want”, and I address solely whether it is just to — after the injustices he and his family suffered under the aegis of official execution of the laws of the United States, via inequal protection of those laws — whether it is just to further deny them equal protection of the laws.

            I did speak about his philosophy, and I have a very difficult time believing that anyone familiar with his philosophy would state that people should not be granted equal protection of the laws, that children should not be provided for by their parents, that property should be stripped from the owner by a mob without compensation, simply because the property is popular, or of historic significance, or the owner has not consented to display of the artifact(s) free of charge.

            Be careful not to eisegesise, when constructing an argument.

          2. I was careful to avoid entirely touching on “What would MLK want”

            Uh, what?

            This is you in your previous post: “No – he would want … “. Please stop with the double-talk. Why all the dancing around that just leads to semantic arguments making this about you instead of the point of this thread?

            Anyway… the source I linked to in my previous post says, “… King himself donated proceeds from licensing the speech to fund the civil rights movement.” That somewhat supports your argument in that King certainly wasn’t adverse to utilizing licensing of the speech.

            But, once again, this man who wrote so much and knew his life was in dire danger didn’t find it necessary to write a Will? If money from the speech going to his family after his death was so important to the man, why on Earth didn’t he make that his last will and testament?

            And, as far as the family goes… many of them should be ashamed of themselves publicly squabbling over their dead father’s assets. They sure as hell don’t have to keep his “I Have a Dream” speech held hostage to make money. Why not just profit off of movie rights, etc.? Because they are too busy squabbling apparently. I sincerely doubt MLK would want (or expected) that either.

            I’d love nothing more than another semantic argument [eye roll]… but let’s just agree to disagree, m’kay?

        2.  You sure he wouldn’t want his family to earn their own livings?

          How does this “children have a right to make a living from the labor of their parents” thing fit into the whole “equality of opportunity” ideal?

          1. My argument has nothing to do with whether they should make their own living. Please don’t construct strawmen.

        3.  He would have wanted his family to have been able to succeed and go farther in life because of him, not to simply live off the crumbs he left behind.

          He also wanted us to judge them by the content of their character.

          Done. Not the best of folks.

          1. My argument has nothing to do with whether they should make their own living. Their character has nothing to do with whether they should be extended equal protection of the law. Please don’t construct strawmen arguments.

    4. The more you tighten your fist the more works of cultural and historical significance will slip through your fingers.

  2. Just crazy. This wasn’t an essay published in a book, it was a political speech given in public by one of the most significant leaders of his time. You can’t copyright history.

  3. “This video does not exist.”

    That was quick. Well, I guess it’s time to switch to the similar but copyright-free speech, “I Experienced a Mental Picture”.

    1. I say leave the ‘missing’ video up. This is the sort of thing that is  slap to the face of what we want.

      We’re not sharing a movie or a song, but a historic and noteable speech shared hundreds of times ovr in schools and universities and taught to basically everyone that recieves a formalized education in America (I say that because i don’t know how other countries operate even though  Iview this as one of those pivotal moments the world over.)

  4. This is nothing but STEALING the hard WORK and PROPERTY of artists who have WORKED HARD. You are promoting STEALING of PROPERTY that is not YOURS to TAKE for FREE! This theft of PROPERTY which belongs to OTHERS and NOT YOU is literally KILLING all ARTISTS and CORN FARMERS. You are TAKING PROPERTY for FREE, and THAT IS ILLEGAL and WRONG. How will this ARTIST now have incentive to FIGHT RACISM when you have STOLEN HIS PROPERTY, his WORK and posting it for FREE! 


  5. I’d love to share this. Is there another posting somewhere – anywhere – that still works? Hell, I’ll download it and serve it up myself if I haz to. Anyone? Beuller?

  6. They really took it down? This is a joke isn’t it? No one could willfully go out of his way to appear that stupid, evil and petty… Oh, wait…
    No, please tell me it’s a joke!

    For a moment there I actually felt like I’m gonna throw up…

    1. Not a joke.  I chase the video around the Internet a lot, because I like to share it with schoolchildren.  It’s owned by a corporation that has no problem with preventing them from hearing Dr. King’s message for free.

  7. What I liked (of what I was able to watch) was the intro FFTF made. If that could be posted separately then it can be attached to other sources of the MLK speech. Either way – I’ll put something up and post a link here.

  8. If your interest is to take in the speech, the full audio is available through the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute which houses King’s papers.

    While you’re at it, since King’s speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is just about all anybody knows about the man and his politics, may I suggest you also take the time to listen to his speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” and appreciate the evolution of his thought in the interceding three-and-a-half years.

  9. Remember, if SOPA had passed, *entire sites* could have been shut down simply for linking to a video of Dr. King’s historic speech.”

    More people need to know this sick fact before zombie-SOPA rears its ugly, corrupt head.

  10. Every MLK day I wonder if it would work to have some sort of “Free the Dream” campaign. Go to the King family and say “We’d like to license Dr. King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech for unlimited non-exclusive online use. What’s the fee for that?”

    Get a number from them, use Kickstarter or something to raise the money (I’d kick in few bucks) and then pay them off and make this whole issue go away once and for all.

  11. Hey, the video is back here on boingboing. As the Nutra-Matic machine says, “Share and enjoy!”

  12. Of course. MLK didn’t want just anybody to hear his message. Only those who could pay.

    His children are disgraceful, and we all have a moral obligation to ignore this and any other broken copyright.

    Fight for your flawed system if you wish. History belongs to everyone.

Comments are closed.