Posted by: Paul A. Forsyth | January 19, 2015

Selma, Dr. King, and Long Copyright Terms

Jonathan Band at Techdirt: “How Copyright Forced A Filmmaker To Rewrite Martin Luther King’s Historic Words”:

[T]he speeches performed by actor David Oyelowo in the film do not contain the actual words spoken by King. This is because the King estate would not license the copyright in the speeches to filmmaker Ava DuVernay. Thus, the King estate’s aggressive stance on copyright has literally forced the re-writing of history.

According to the Washington Post, the King estate licensed the film rights to King’s speeches to DreamWorks, with Steven Spielberg producing any resulting films. DuVernay said that she never even asked for the rights to King’s speeches “because we knew those rights are already gone, they’re with Spielberg.” She added that she knew that there were strings attached to the rights: “with those rights came a certain collaboration.” In other words, the King estate uses its control over the copyright to control how King is portrayed. The Post article suggests that this control has prevented the making of a feature film about King — until now.

(This reminded me a bit of the Ted Hughes estate using it’s control of the deceased poet’s copyrights to control biographers.)

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