Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I have a dream. I'll tell you what it is for £1.70

Martin Luther King's speeches, you might think, are so important they should be shared, and repeated, and used freely.

But King copyrighted them, and since his death, his estate has fought to ensure that use of his words generates revenue. Now, in order to squeeze a few extra quid out the man, they've signed up EMI to manage the rights.

Yes. EMI. The company are ecstatic:

Roger Faxon, the chief executive of EMI's music publishing division, said the move was not much of a departure for the music company because “extracts of many of his speeches are already used in musical compositions - and because we have expertise in ensuring that there is a proper licensing regime for intellectual property”.

Extracts of his speeches have turned up in songs, so it's not that different really. Likewise, EMI has released songs in which people play pianos, which means they'd be the perfect people to move a baby grand from one country to another.

And let's just take a second to review Faxon's assertion that EMI are some sorts of experts in ensuring licensing regimes. EMI. It's not like their business has spent the last decade flapping round like a plastic bag in a hurricane as their stuff vanishes off into darknets and peer-to-peer networks while their 'experts' suggest that suing single parents and postmen for tens of thousands of pounds is the answer, is it? Good lord, if EMI are experts in ensuring maximised revenue in an online marketplace, you'd hate to meet someone who only had half a clue, wouldn't you?

To be fair to the estate of Martin Luther King, the idea of appointing licensing 'experts' isn't totally motivated by greed, as revenue from the use of his speeches does help fund the Atlanta King Center:
Dexter S. King, chairman and chief executive of the King Estate, said that it wanted EMI “to monitor and bring under compliance the unauthorised usages of Dr King's words and intellectual property on the internet and digital media”, which would “increase the King Estate's ability to preserve, perpetuate, and protect the great legacy of Martin Luther King”.

Is strangling the rights to use his words really the best way to do that, though? If you really want to ensure King's legacy, does forcing people to pay to quote his most inspirational words really help with that in the long term?