I heard it coming and yet it caught me unawares!

So for the last several days I have been hearing talk on the local NPR channel about that famous speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. – the one titled “I Have a Dream.” I’ve actually learned more about that speech by hearing about it on the radio than I ever did in school, even though I was raised in the Metro Detroit area and despite the fact that Dr. King was such a popular dude in our area that he had his own holiday that we got to take off of school every year.

English: Dr. Martin Luther King giving his &qu...
Dr. Martin Luther King giving his “I Have a Dream” speech (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did you know, in fact, that today – August 28th 2013 – is the 50th anniversary of the delivery of that speech? If you haven’t heard yet and you do not hear it today, then you certainly heard it from me, didn’t you? And with the delivery of that speech, Dr. King joined the handful of the most famous notables who declared that all people should be free and enjoy the rights associated with American life; including Thomas Jefferson, who was the first to introduce that into an American legal document when he wrote in the Preamble to the Constitution, “[w]e hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Despite the fact that he is rightfully disputed to this day to be an exploitative slave owner, he did write that and most certainly felt it at one time, even if it was suppressed in the interest of business. Jefferson was, after all, a slave to his own pleasurable life and did his best to hold onto it. Abraham Lincoln, hailed as the great emancipator, runs much in the same vein; he helped shape modern America by introducing an amendment to the Constitution which led ultimately to the abolition of slavery in America. It wasn’t the most popular choice to make, nor was it something he rushed to do – but it was something he ultimately decided would help save and preserve the fractured Union; in other words, abolishing slavery was a tool for saving the nation.

Dr. King was naturally different, because he was black and the fight for civil rights was one that he ended up leading to America’s front door, declaring that freedom had not yet been claimed by all Americans. His speech invoked the words of both Jefferson and Lincoln, bringing them forth from the hollow past of history to stand at his side as he grabbed national attention with his speech.

Photograph of a reproduction of the Emancipati...
the Emancipation Proclamation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And it’s interesting to note that I could easily post the entire Declaration of Independence if I wanted to, or the Emancipation Proclamation – and sure, it’s because they’re old documents. But I am not ready to reproduce more than the title of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech because it turns out that it is protected under copyright law. Now that’s a trick. According to what I heard on NPR, Dr. King copyrighted his speech to help fund the civil rights movement, and when he was murdered five years later, the copyright passed to his estate, and in the time since they have actively defended their copyright, which does not go away until 2038. Because of this it might be difficult to find a transcript online of the speech, so we might not even know what it says. Apparently I can pay thirteen dollars to get a copy from Amazon, but I can’t just read it online.

Is that really fair? Shouldn’t such an important piece of history be considered in the public domain? I certainly think so, but what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

Oh, and the link below to the Miami Herald claims to be the full text of the speech. If you are interested, print it out while you can, or at least hit the print button at the bottom of the article and save that. I think we have a right to be able to read it.


  1. It’s amazing to think it’s been 50 years since that speech. I think it would be great if it was available online, but if the copyright for the speech is being used as Dr. King wanted, to help fund civil rights, then I have no problem with that. Thanks Rob for some great information

  2. This is a pretty epic post – I am going to go find that speech and listen to it today. It’s strange that you can be so inspiring with just a few simple words – King knew that 50 years ago (holy crap, 50? really?) There is a lot to learn from that.

    • Right, and doesn’t it just blow your mind to know that the 60’s are already fifty years old? Still – yeah, the shortness of the speech is another reason I think that it’s unreasonable to charge anybody who wants access to it; at the very least I think it should be free for non-profit use. Charge the people who make history textbooks, because they’re the ones banking off of what they use it for.

      • You have an interesting point there but I don’t know if I agree. Textbooks are strictly for learning purposes, if we don’t teach aren’t we doomed to repeat? And if not for teaching these infamous speeches that are capable of changing a generation, how can we hope to impress the power of words on the next generation?

        • Well, as for your choice of words, “infamous” has somewhat dark connotations that denote the fame of villainous people. And it reminds me of The Three Amigos.

          But textbook companies would pay for that speech’s inclusion either way. They claim that’s why they cost so much, because they contain quite a bit of licensed content; so I’m not talking about changing the status quo on that score, but rather to make it available for those who want it for non-profit use. That’s how “free for non-profit use” works: if you make money from something you should work out a royalty scale with the copyright owner, otherwise you’re in the clear.

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