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King estate settles speech copyright dispute with CBS

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    NMU         ELEVENTH CIRCUIT         Copyrights & Trademarks         Jul 18, 2000    

King estate settles speech copyright dispute with CBS

  • The network can continue to use footage of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in a documentary produced by CBS News.

The estate of Rev. Dr. Matin Luther King Jr. has dropped its lawsuit against CBS News over the rights to use excerpts of King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech in a CBS documentary, “The 20th Century with Mike Wallace.”

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta in 1996, after CBS began selling the five-part documentary videos. It was dismissed in 1998 by U.S. District Judge William O’Kelley, who determined the speech entered the public domain because of its “wide and unlimited reproduction and dissemination” in conjunction with King’s delivery of the speech on August 28, 1963 at the civil rights march on Washington.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta (11th Cir.) reversed the decision in November 1999, finding that the widespread broadcast of the speech and distribution of a text version did not necessarily mean that King had intended to waive copyright protection.

On July 12, the King estate and CBS announced they had reached a settlement to bring an end to the lawsuit. In exchange for a donation of an unspecified amount to the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, the estate dropped its lawsuit, according to The New York Times. As part of the settlement, CBS retains the right to use its film of the speech and license it to others, but the network must also inform any interested parties how to get in touch with the estate “regarding the estate’s claimed intellectual property,” according to a news release by both parties.

(Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., Inc. v. CBS, Inc.; Media Counsel: M. Landis C. Best, Cahill Gordon & Reindel, New York) JM

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