Sunday, June 1, 2014

I Have a Dream that people everywhere will be able to read "I Have A Dream"

The "I Have a Dream" speech is under copyright. Even on, they have an image of the pages of a book with the speech, but it is displayed such that it is exceedingly difficult to read. I totally understand they have a RIGHT to enforce copyright...but whether the copyright holders like it or not King's most famous speech has become a part of our nation's shared legacy, and I just wrote them to beg that they not enforce that right.
We have free access up until 1923 to the words of people who had a voice...but those who had a voice were a select group. As the 20th century wore on, more women, immigrants, and minorities were able to speak--but we don't hear them nearly as easily. I feel if our copyright laws didn't stop public sharing of our history at 1923, we would be a far, far more progressive and knowledgeable country. 
The prompt on the site was "I have a dream that..." Here's what I wrote:
I have a dream that you will make the text of "I Have a Dream" freely available online, so kids and adults around the nation and the world have an opportunity to learn from this speech. It has incredible, terrific power to teach--about human nature; about the power of focus and determination as well as hope and trust; about the most conflicted, vexing theme of our nation's history and present. And--as an educator of English and literature I must add--it is also an incredible text for studying rhetoric, persuasive techniques, poetic language, word choice, and features of the spoken word versus the written.

I respect that you have the right to enforce copyright. But I beg that you gift the world the privilege of free access to this incredibly important document. We currently have free access to the words of many tellers of the American story, such as Patrick Henry, Lincoln (and indeed all of our presidents), and Mark Twain. But the affect of copyright laws has been that the tellers of our history are restricted to privileged white men. Undeniably, those men have a vital story to tell--but it's not the only story, and the copyright laws have unwittingly perpetuated their antiquated prerogative.
We can't ask all post-1928 world-changing texts to be made freely available (though I think that would be very helpful for reviving and nurturing a civic mind and a sense of compassion and understanding in our country)--but MLK's speech--that is really an exceptional, special piece. Please, reconsider your enforcement of copyright.

(Update: The 1928 was an error. It's 1923.)

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