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Why ‘Selma’ can’t show video from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches

David Weinberg Jan 7, 2015
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Why ‘Selma’ can’t show video from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches

David Weinberg Jan 7, 2015
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The movie Selma will be released nationwide on January 9th. The film focuses on the events leading up to the Voting Rights act of 1965, including several famous speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King, but what viewers won’t screen on-screen are those speeches. At least not the way that King originally delivered them.

Instead, viewers will see altered versions of the speeches because — and this may surprise some of you — Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches are copyrighted.

The studio behind the film didn’t have the rights to use King’s actual words. The King estate, which controls his intellectual property, is known for aggressively pursuing those who use his speeches without permission. But not always. When someone posted the entire “I Have a Dream” speech on YouTube, it stayed online, preceded by a Doritos ad.

Jennifer Jenkins, a copyright expert, says that’s probably YouTube’s Content ID system at work. Under that system, the holder of a copyright can block an unauthorized video, or collect the ad revenue from it. 

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