We are in the process of nationalizing and/or federalizing vast stretches of our economy, including the auto industry, banks, and health care. Individual property rights have taken a back seat to political priorities.

I am against this trampling of individual property rights, which are the foundation of our democracy. But if it is going to happen because of the large Democrat majorities in Congress and Obama’s personal popularity, then there is one aspect of the economy Democrats should nationalize before anything else: The history of Martin Luther King, Jr.

We created a national MLK holiday in 1986, thereby elevating MLK to a position in the nation’s history almost unparalleled in over 200 years. Virtually every school in the country devotes more time to discussing MLK’s legacy than the history of any president or war. More so than the election of Barack Obama, the MLK holiday was a turning point in race relations and the recognition of the lingering effects of slavery and segregation.

Yet much of the history of MLK remains off limits to the public, and is controlled through copyright and other intellectual property rights by MLK’s family members. Such historic speeches such as the “I Have a Dream” are owned by MLK’s family through a foundation:

All of King’s speeches and papers are owned by his family, which has gone to court several times since the 1990s to protect its copyright; King obtained rights to his most famous speech a month after he gave it. Now, those who want to hear or use the speech in its entirety must buy a copy sanctioned by the King family, which receives the proceeds.

Few people realize that reprinting the “I Have a Dream” speech without permission of MLK’s family, and in many cases the payment of royalties, will result at a minimum in a nasty lawyer letter, and even a lawsuit. These efforts to maintain copyright control over MLK’s speeches are international in scope.

The latest example is an attempt by two MLK family members to stop a film about MLK’s life because some copyrighted material was used without permission or payment of royalties:

DreamWorks plans the first big-screen portrayal of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, the studio announced Tuesday, but two of King’s children immediately threatened legal action because the film deal was brokered without their blessing.

For MLK’s family members, the economic structure they have created could not be better. They have nationalized their father’s persona, but profit by controlling the written and spoken words which memorialize his history. While the foundation may be not-for-profit, the salaries and other perks the family garners are hardly not-for-nothing.

The time has come to end this madness. If Democrats are going to nationalize much of the economy over the protests of Republicans and independents, then Democrats should first nationalize Martin Luther King, Jr.’s history, including the “I Have a Dream” speech.

UPDATE: Jonathan Turley has a post in which he argues that the King family should have been compelled to waive copyright protection in exchange for the King Memorial on the National Mall:

The King children are at it again: demanding consultation (and presumably payment) for any work on their father. Recently, I wrote a column denouncing the King family’s history of bilking authors, institutions, and even the King Memorial committee for money….

When you give a speech on the congressional mall, it should belong to the nation. More importantly, Congress should have premised the creation of the King memorial on the family releasing this speech to the public domain (as President release their documents in exchange for presidential libraries.

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