Monday, January 15, 2007

Public Domain

Today is an important day to mark the legacy of a great activist for civil rights, human rights, and the peace movement and perhaps the planet's last great political orator as we move into the Internet age. As my colleague Vivian Folkenflik points out the holiday allows us to create and inhabit our own memorial spaces that honor the spirit of his work.

But, at the risk of committing a sacrilege that may offend some readers, it is worth also commemorating the fact that the work of this great cultural borrower and weaver is not yet part of the public domain where it justifiably belongs. In 1993 the King Estate sued USA Today for reprinting the "I Have a Dream" speech on the thirtieth anniversary of the event, and in 1998 it sued CBS for copyright infringement, even though this speech was delivered in front of 200,000 people and remains a historical high-water mark in our common public memory of social change. You can read how King's image is also licensed for inappropriate commercials in The Washington Post and The New York Times. For more on this story from Virtualpolitik, you can go here, here, and here.



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