Article ID: CBB398343249

The Commodification of Dr. King, or What Intellectual Property Rights Did to Civil Rights (2023)


Coppola, Joseph (Author)

American Quarterly
Volume: 75
Issue: 1
Pages: 103-128
Publication date: 2023
Language: English

While a large body of scholarship has emphasized the "Santa Clausification" of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy, or King as a "harmless dreamer," most scholars neglect the legal apparatuses that enable (or disable) his image, likeness, speeches, and voice to circulate in the public sphere. This essay argues that intellectual property plays a vital yet undertheorized role in the whitewashing of King's legacy. Offering an interdisciplinary study of cultural history, visual analysis, and legal discourse, this essay shows that one unrecognized feature of the intellectual property system is its ability to manage civil rights discourse. It demonstrates how the structural commitments of the law—economic incentives for innovation, corporate licensing regimes, and copyright's possessive-individualist model of authorship—contribute to racial hierarchy and economic inequality. By thinking through the social justice implications of managing civil rights discourse, and by offering a model for what I call "counterstorytelling" on digital media where communities on YouTube and Twitter strategically reappropriate commercial uses of King's image, likeness, speeches, and voice on television and redeploy them for social justice causes, this essay creates space for engaging and resisting the power dynamics that structure the flow of knowledge production in the digital information age.

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Authors & Contributors
Con Diaz, Gerardo
Biagioli, Mario
Dommann, Monika
Hyo, Yoon Kang
Jaszi, Peter
Johns, Adrian
American Quarterly
Cultural Anthropology
History of Science
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Pepperdine Law Review
University of Chicago Press
New York University
Johns Hopkins University Press
Palgrave Macmillan
Intellectual property
Technology and law
Copyright law
Technology and society
Civil rights
Time Periods
21st century
20th century
20th century, late
19th century
Early modern
United States
Great Britain
Southern states (U.S.)
National Commission on New Technological Uses of Copyrighted Works

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