(EM)I Has A Dream

EM(I) Has A DreamAugust 28th, 2013 is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The copyright in the speech is administered by EMI, with the consent of the King family. Thus the speech may not be freely played on video or reproduced and costlessly distributed across the nation — even today. Its transient appearance depends on the copyright owner’s momentary sufferance, not public right. It may disappear from your video library tomorrow. It has even been licensed to advertise commercial products, including cars and mobile phone plans. Few would object if Dr. King’s family used their rights to protect his legacy or to fund the civil rights movement. But mobile phones? Really? I was moved by the idea that perhaps this does not fully represent the set of awe-inspiring ideals Dr. King laid out and that — as a nation — we might do better. What’s next? “‘The Gettysburg Address’ brought to you by Samsung because ‘governance of the plasma TV by the universal remote shall not vanish from the Earth?’ All Rights Reserved?”

Now, if EMI, or the United States archives, or the NAACP, were to offer to buy from the King family the rights to the speech and to release it into the public domain, to the realm of the free? Or if we were to decide that straightforward reproduction of vital cultural moments such as this, simply to grant access and not to tout some product, is a clear and unequivocal “fair use”? That would be a different story. But until then…? Here is the world we live in now.

(EM)I Has A Dream

James Boyle

I have a dream, an Ambien™ fuelled, Tempurpedic™ enabled dream, that banishes insomnia courtesy of great pharma and NASA-developed memory foam.

I have a dream that one day my children will be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the contents, the overflowing and bounteously lucrative contents, of their intellectual property portfolio, managed by EMI (“Making your ideas work for you.”)

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former civil rights leaders and the sons of former record executives will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood, in order to discuss how this speech could be used to sell cars. (“Mercedes™! The future of the automobile opportunistic cultural appropriation!”)

But somehow, just somehow, that doesn’t seem the right way to honour this great legacy, this great man, this magnificent speech. Let us start again.

Five tens of years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, wrote this speech. This momentous oratory came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of African-Americans. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. Fifty years later, that speech still is not free. Fifty years later, the life of the speech is still sadly crippled by the manacles of corporate ownership and the chains of take-down letters. Fifty years later, the speech lives on a lonely island of property rights in the midst of a vast ocean of the culture it influenced. And I say, let freedom ring. Not the chirpy ring of the Cingular wireless phone his words were actually used to advertise, but the idea of freedom for which he stood.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and actually use the words of this speech.

Then, and only then, we will be able to say, “We have a dream. And no one owns it. Free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

(When I finish this posting and attempt to post it on the Huffington Post website, the interface asks me to link to associated images by searching key terms. I search, logically enough, “Martin Luther King “and get the following response “There are no royalty free images corresponding to the search term entered. Please try with another keyword.” Ah well. Let freedom Ka-Ching.)

James Boyle is the William Neal Reynolds Professor of Law at Duke Law School and the founder of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain. His columns represent his personal views alone.

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013 Uncategorized

From the Blog

  • Mark Twain on the Need for Perpetual Copyright

    This is the second in a series of postings of material drawn from our forthcoming, Creative Commons licensed, open coursebook on Intellectual Property.  The first was Victor Hugo: Guardian of the Public Domain The book will be released in late August.

    In 1906, Samuel Clemens (who we remember better by his pen name Mark Twain) addressed Congress on the reform of the Copyright Act.  Delicious.

  • Victor Hugo: Guardian of the Public Domain

    Jennifer Jenkins and I are frantically working to put together a new open casebook on Intellectual Property Law.  (It will be available, in beta version, this Fall under a CC license, and freely downloadable in multiple formats of course.  Plus it should sell in paper form for about $130 less than the competing casebooks. The accompanying statutory supplement will be 1/5  the price of most statutory supplements — also freely downloadable.)  More about that later.  While assembling the materials for a casebook, one gets to revisit the archives, reread the great writers.  Today I was revisiting Victor Hugo.  Hugo was a fabulous — inspiring, passionate — proponent of the rights of authors, and the connection of those rights to free expression and free ideas.

  • “We Need To Start Seeing Other Futures..”

    Today is the second day of “Copyright Week!” Talk about a lede. That sentence has all the inherent excitement of “Periodontal Health Awareness Week” or “‘Hug Your Proctologist! No, After He’s Washed His Hands’ Week.” And that’s a shame. Copyright Week is a week devoted to our relationship with our own culture. Hint: things aren’t going well. The relationship is on the rocks.

  • Discussion: “The Foolish War Against Song-Lyric Websites”

    Professor Alex Sayf Cummings, author of a fascinating book called Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the 20th Century (recommended as a  thought-provoking read)  has an interesting  post up about attempts to shut down music lyric sites such as Rapgenius.com.

  • The Top Ten List of a Conference Planner

    Academics (and others) arrange conferences.  Perfectly normal people are invited to those conferences to speak.  Most of them are just as charming as can be… but then there are the special ones.  This Top 10 List of the special people one has to respond to is devoted to all conference planners everywhere.  Hold your heads up high.  After this, purgatory should be a snap.

  • (EM)I Has A Dream

    EM(I) Has A DreamAugust 28th, 2013 is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The copyright in the speech is administered by EMI, with the consent of the King family. Thus the speech may not be freely played on video or reproduced and costlessly distributed across the nation — even today. Its transient appearance depends on the copyright owner’s momentary sufferance, not public right. It may disappear from your video library tomorrow. It has even been licensed to advertise commercial products, including cars and mobile phone plans.

  • The Prosecution of Aaron: A Response to Orin Kerr

    Aaron Swartz committed suicide last week.  He was 26, a genius and my friend.  Not a really good friend, but someone I had worked with off and on for 11 years, liked a lot, had laughed with frequently, occasionally shaken my head over and deeply admired.

  • The Hargreaves Review

    An Intellectual Property System for the Internet Age

    James Boyle

    In November 2010, the Prime Minister commissioned a review of the Britain’s intellectual property laws and their effect on economic growth, quoting the founders of Google that “they could never have started their company in Britain” because of a lack of flexibility in British copyright..  Mr. Cameron wanted to see if we could have UK intellectual property laws “fit for the Internet age.”   Today the Review will be published. Its conclusion?  “Could it be true that laws designed more than three centuries ago with the express purpose of creating economic incentives for innovation by protecting creators’ rights are today obstructing innovation and economic growth?  The short answer is: yes.” Those words are from Professor Ian Hargreaves, head of the Review.   (Full disclosure: I was on the Review’s panel of expert advisors.)

  • Keith Aoki — A Remembrance Book

    A slideshow and downloadable book remembering Keith in words and pictures.  You can order a glossy, high quality copy of the book itself here from Createspace or here from Amazon.  We tried to make it as beautiful as something Keith would create.  We failed. But we came close; have a look at how striking it is… all because of Keith’s art.

  • Now THAT is how you teach a class

  • RIP, Keith Aoki

    Our friend, colleague, co-author and brilliant artist and scholar Keith Aoki died yesterday in his house in Sacramento.  He was 55 years old.

  • The Future of the Constitution?

    The Brookings Institution has organized a volume on “The Future of the Constitution” edited by Jeff Rosen and Benjamin Wittes and featuring articles by me, Larry Lessig, Jonathan Zittrain, Tim Wu and many others.  How will our constitutional tradition deal with the challenges posed by new technologies?  The topics range from possible personhood claims by artificial intelligences, to the future of free speech and the Net, to neuroscience and criminal punishment.  The essays are freely available online. Details after the jump.

  • Presumed Guilty

    My new FT column is up. Shakespeare, copyright, Scott Turow and a shadowy group of law professors..  What could be more fun? Ungated version after the jump. 

  • Waiting for ‘Waiting for Godot’

    What Could Have Been Entering the Public Domain on January 1, 2011?
    read more

  • Fantasy & Reality in Intellectual Property Policy

    My new column for the FT is up.  It deals with the incredible weakness of the data on which our intellectual property policy proceeds.   Ungated version after the jump

  • CBC Radio Interview on the History of Copyright

    Nora Young and the folk at CBC’s Spark have done it again, with a really nicely presented episode that includes a feature on copyright.  Nora interviews me about the history of copyright…  in 5 minutes.

  • EFF Pioneer Award Video

    Is here. I appear at 3:25 or so.

  • EFF Party in San Francisco!

    On November 8th, Cory Doctorow, John Perry Barlow, and numerous other digital luminaries will be gathering at the Minna Gallery in San Francisco for the EFF’s Pioneer Awards Party.  Cory is going to be the MC and — when not featured on XKCD blogging from a ballon in a red cape and goggles…

  • Net Neutrality Debate

    Great hour long radio show on net neutrality from NPR’s The State of Things.  Me, the inimitable Paul Jones of iBiblio, and Ryan Radia of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  Frank Stasio is just a great interviewer.  Listen to it here

  • Op Art Comic in todays SF Chronicle

    We have a centerfold Op Art comic on “Copyright’s Futures”  in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.  The comic is

  • Why I Miss Justice Blackmun…

    This isn’t a post about intellectual property or the networked society, so if your interests only run that far, cease reading here.  In the late 80′s and early 90′s refugees were attempting to escape what was, in a decidedly non metaphorical sense, a hellish situation in Haiti..

  • Why We Need a Digital Civil Society

    Nitya Rajan interviewed me at Orgcon about why the legislative process malfunctions particularly badly on digital policy, and what the creation of civil society groups could do to fix that.  Video after the jump.

  • Who Steals the Gene from Off the Common

    My new Financial Times column on the creation of a science commons is now up.  For the ungated version, read on…

  • What if the Web Really Worked For Science?

    Here is the video of my speech in Vienna at the IRF symposium.  The title was What If the Web Really Worked for Science? Reimagining Data Policy and Intellectual Property.

  • Is Google Naive, Crafty or Stupid?

    I just started writing a column for the Huffington Post.  (I will still be writing for the FT.)  My first column is on the Google-Verizon announcement.  Not the “what” but the “why?”

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