Controversy Over Use Of King Name

Should It Be Sold?

Prominent members of the black community, including the chairman of the NAACP, are criticizing the family of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for selling the image and words of the civil rights martyr for profit. This Sunday on 60 Minutes, Lesley Stahl reports on the controversy.

"It's terribly hard. [The Kings] are decent people... suffered an enormous amount. But these actions upset many... and some people are compelled to speak out about it," NAACP Chairman Julian Bond says of the selling of Dr. King, including the use of his "I Have a Dream" speech in a television commercial for the Alcatel communications company. "When I saw that on TV, I could not believe I was seeing what I saw," he says.

"If Martin were alive, he and I would be meeting with Alcatel right now, saying, 'How many blacks and women on your board?'" said the Rev. Joseph Lowry, who worked with Dr. King. "Martin Luther King must not be used as a huckster for some corporation."

Dr. King copyrighted much of his work before his assassination, but many object to the deal struck by the King family to sell his papers to the Library of Congress for $20 million – a fee rejected by the U.S. Congress. The King family also charges media organizations and scholars who want to use Dr. King's words or image for publication or broadcast. The family has sued organizations, including CBS News and USA Today, for using King's words without paying a licensing fee. Both cases were settled out of court.

Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, who once worked alongside Dr. King, says there is nothing wrong with the King Family making a profit, because Dr. King belongs to the family, not the public.

"There's nothing wrong with selling a commercial product, even for a saint," says Young. "You have a national holiday, but you don't have the right to control his words, his images, his ideas," he tells Stahl. A King family advisor, Bill Wachtel, says copyright laws are all about profits going to rightful owners instead of entities, such as publishers and broadcasters. And Young points out that Dr. King's estate was financially small, but by copyrighting his works, he left the family an inheritance they rightly deserve.

But another man who worked with Dr. King doesn't agree. "I think Martin Luther King must be spinning in his grave," says Bill Rutherford, who was executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference when King was murdered. "He gave his life for his ideas of justice, peace and love. He attempted his entire life to communicate ideas for free. To communicate, not to sell," he says.



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  • David Kohn

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