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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Copyright Rebellion Over Landmark MLK Documentary

Last week I wrote a post about how the landmark Martin Luther King documentary, Eyes on the Prize, cannot be shown legally any more due to the fact that the filmmakers no longer hold the licenses to much of the copyrighted material within the film. Lawrence Guyot, former leader of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, made the comment that "I would call upon everyone who has access to Eyes on the Prize to openly violate any and all laws regarding its showing."

Well it looks like someone has taken him up on his suggestion. Today I spoke with Downhill Battle, a non-profit organization that was started in 2003 to fight corporate domination of copyrighted material that keeps culture out of the hands of the public.  They have established a web site where the film can be downloaded with Blog Torrent or BitTorent, and they're calling for a day of public screenings on February 8, 2005.

David Moore of Downhill Battle says that their actions have the tacit support of the filmmakers, and that plans are afoot for a screening of the film on Feburary 8 on Capitol Hill.

The film is being offered in celebration of Black History Month. “Eyes on the Prize was the first introduction to the history of the Civil Rights Movement for millions of people,” says Nicholas Reville of Downhill Battle, “But our corporatized copyright system is keeping it locked away.”  

Expect Warner Brothers to shit sideways over this one, at least privately if not publicly. They own the copyright to Happy Birthday, which at one point during the film is sung to Martin Luther King. It puts them in the awkward position where pursuing their copyright means they'll be denying people the chance to see the documentary, an ugly public relations nightmare for anyone.

The ramifications could be far reaching. Cory Doctorow, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says, "This could be a seminal moment in technology liberty. It's a brilliant campaign on Downhill Battle's part. I hope you'll participate."