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‘Dream’ Speech Lawsuit Reinstated

November 7, 1999

ATLANTA (AP) _ A federal appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit against CBS for use of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 ``I Have a Dream″ speech, in which the family of the late civil rights leader claimed copyright infringement.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that a federal judge in Atlanta incorrectly dismissed the suit and sent it back to the lower court for further study.

Nine minutes of the 16-minute speech, which became a powerful symbol of the civil rights movement, were used in a CBS program called ``The 20th Century with Mike Wallace.″ The King estate sued in 1996, seeking to stop CBS from using the footage.

U.S. District Judge William O’Kelley ruled in July 1998 that King forfeited any copyright interest when he distributed advance copies to reporters without copyright notice, placed no restrictions on what use could be made of the speech and generally encouraged its distribution.

Chief Judge Lanier Anderson III wrote Friday that ``there exist genuine issues of material fact as to whether a general publication occurred.″

CBS lawyer Floyd Abrams expressed disappointment in the appeals court decision.

``Naturally, I’m sorry that the decision of the district court was not left in effect,″ Abrams said. ``But I’m confident on the facts and the law that CBS will ultimately prevail.″

In a hearing before the appeals panel in May, Abrams argued that the King estate has no right to claim ownership of the footage, which the network shot during the Aug. 28, 1963, rally at the Lincoln Memorial.

With King’s widow and son sitting in the courtroom, lawyer Joseph Beck countered that the speech was King’s most important work and he would not want it used for commercial purposes without his approval.

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