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Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., Inc. v. CBS, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
194 F.3d 1211 (1999)


On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech (the speech), famous for the phrase “I have a dream,” during the march on Washington. The march was organized by King, as the founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). SCLC sought and obtained extensive news and media coverage of the march on Washington and King’s speech. On September 30, 1963, King filed for copyright protection for the speech under the Copyright Act of 1909. King and, later, the estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., Inc. (the estate) (plaintiff) licensed use of the speech and renewed the copyright protection periodically, as required. In 1994, CBS, Incorporated (CBS) (defendant) produced a documentary series about important events in the twentieth century. One of the segments covered King’s march on Washington, and included footage from CBS’s archives showing significant portions of the speech. CBS did not license the use and refused to pay royalties. The estate sued CBS for copyright infringement. CBS moved for summary judgment, arguing that the speech was not subject to copyright protection, because King’s public delivery constituted a general publication of the work. The district court granted CBS’s motion for summary judgment, noting that there was additional disputed evidence to suggest that written copies of the speech were made publicly available as well. The estate appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Anderson, C.J.)

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