Putting Poetry Behind A Paywall

January 19, 2015

Several years ago, my daughter, then 4, became interested in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which prompted me to fire up my computer, snuggle up on the couch with her, and together we watched the “I Have A Dream” speech on YouTube. It’s one of those moments we parents have, where the significance seems completely lost on your kid while you cherish it forever. In fact, I recently asked her if she remembered watching the speech with me. “Nope. Well, kinda…” At least she’s being honest.

When I recently went back to YouTube to watch the speech again, I was greeted not by the soaring oratory of the great Dr. King, but rather, by the following:


Turns out the King estate holds a copyright on that famous speech, and has clamped down on its unauthorized use. It won’t enter the public domain until 2038. For now, you can buy it for $20 from the King Center. Who knew?  Now, I’m all for artists, writers, musicians and the like having the ability to protect and earn a living off their original works.

But somehow this action by the King family falls into a gray area for me. Sure, they have the right to protect and profit from Dr. King’s work, but in this case, limiting the audience to those who can afford to buy the speech seems counter to what Dr. King himself was trying to accomplish with his words. 

Turns out the lesson I was teaching my daughter as we snuggled on the couch watching MLK’s moving, historic speech that morning was not about equality.  No, the lesson I was teaching her was that daddy is a thief.