Fair Use and Social Justice – Grace Lee Boggs and MLK Jr. -v- EMI
So I ran into one of those ironies of ironies this evening while working on a project. I pose this to my readers as a question: what would you do?
So here’s the background to the story. I’ve been working for several months with a group of people to bring Grace Lee Boggs, the 96 yr old Detroit activist, intellectual and philosopher, to the New School. After much work we were finally able to secure two events, one event planned as an activist workshop, and the other a public talk. In the lead up to that, I was also working on a possible promo video, after a suggestion from some of the planners. The idea was to have a 2-3 minute promo video to announce the event, and connect the two themes of the event: Grace Lee Boggs and her latest ideas from The Next American Revolution, which she recently published, and the remarks of Martin Luther King Jr. from his 1967 talk ‘Where Do We Go From Here,’ at the 11th Annual SCLC Convention in Georgia. So I put together a clip from a talk she did with Bill Moyers on PBS talking about the changes she was seeing (mind you this is pre-OWS), and a clip of the audio from MLK Jr.’s talk, illustrated with images from OWS and contemporary socio-political issues.
Here’s roughly what was included from the MLK Jr. speech:
I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about “Where do we go from here?” that we must honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. (Yes) There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?” And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. (Yes) And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. (Yes) But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. (All right) It means that questions must be raised…Now, when I say questioning the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. (All right) These are the triple evils that are interrelated…In other words, “Your whole structure (Yes) must be changed.” [applause]…What I’m saying today is that… “America, you must be born again!” [applause]
After editing the video and uploading it to YouTube, the video was immediately flagged by EMI Music Publishing. Apparently they own the copyright to the MLK Jr. speech, and so it had been flagged. Hum, I thought to myself, I think this meets Fair Use guidelines, and by my reading are examples like those in common uses 4 and 5 of the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video. The irony here of course is that the text and audio of this speech are freely available all over the Internet, but once it enters the YouTube commercial filter, the corporate copyright net closes around access to the media.
So I was posed with a dilemma. Do I fight the copyright claim and argue it is fair use? Google gives you that option, but also adds a menacing warning:
“I believe this copyright claim is not valid because:My use of the content meets the legal requirements for fair use or fair dealing under applicable copyright laws.
If you believe your use meets the legal requirements for exemption from copyright under appropriate law, you can dispute this claim. If you are unsure, you should seek legal counsel before submitting a dispute.“
Grace Lee Boggs Promo Video
The video above may or may not be available, contingent on the whims of YouTube. I’ll leave the file embedded and see what happens for now. [Update: It is now fully blocked, but there is a mirror of the video below] But the deeper issue of the idea of MLK being subject to private censorship in a speech decrying that very economic and political system, only speaks to just how important–and dangerous–the ideas of MLK Jr. and Grace Lee Boggs still are to the system.
Although the event is still being finalized, here’s a draft version of one possible poster for the event as a bonus.