Sony Enforces Copyright On King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ Speech

martin luther dream
martin luther dream

Every now and then comes a speech that defines our history. The Gettysburg address is one example. Winston Churchill’s “we shall fight on the beaches” speech is another. Perhaps the most important of all is Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. Delivered on August 28, 1963, it promised a future of equality, a future of common ground between races, a future open to everyone. Sony responded by suing anyone who uses it.

After his death in 1968, the copyright to King’s works fell to his family. They became incredibly litigious, suing anyone who reprinted his words without their permission. This would be bad enough, but in 2009, they entered into a contract with EMI Publishing (part of Sony) over the copyright of the “I have a dream” speech. The way EMI and King’s family have since abused the speech is legendary. Sympathetic documentaries on the Civil Rights era have been refused permission to use it, while French company Alcatel received permission to use King’s words to advertise their Internet service.

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Thanks to EMI’s lawsuits, it’s now almost impossible to find the whole speech online. If you want to hear it in full, you need to pay $20. As one of King’s associates told 60 Minutes in 2001, “[King] attempted his entire life to communicate ideas for free. To communicate, not to sell.”