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Lisa Callif Joins Scripps News to Discuss Life Rights and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy

Ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 15, Lisa Callif sat down with Scripps News to discuss the activist’s legacy as well as the life rights that govern the use of his words or image in media. A new Martin Luther King Jr. biopic, a collaboration between Chris Rock, Steven Spielberg, and Universal Pictures, was announced in late 2023.

Since 1978, King has been portrayed by over a dozen actors, including in the 2014 biopic, “Selma.” However, the portrayals have not featured King’s actual speeches, which he copyrighted before his death. As Lisa tells Scripps, “Martin Luther King’s words, most of them anyway, have copyright protection. To use the speech in its entirety you would need to get permission from the estate.” King’s children, the executors of his estate, have historically denied such requests. “They have a very valuable asset they want to protect,” explains Lisa.

Notably, Steven Spielberg and his company DreamWorksSKG obtained film rights to King’s life (life rights), as well as the license to use King’s copyrighted speeches in 2009, setting the recently announced project apart from others that have come before it.

To watch the full segment, click here.