As part of today’s festivities, a site called InternetFreedomDay.net was launched. One of the several organizations behind the effort, Fight for the Future, tried to make a point about copyright law by posting a video that included footage of Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. Why? Because, as Fight for the Future’s video explained, King’s speech is still under copyright—and therefore sharing it is an act of civil disobedience that honors both Internet Freedom Day and Martin Luther King Day this Monday. Fight for the Future’s video also explained that SOPA would have made streaming the film a criminal offense—a crime like kidnapping, bank fraud, and downloading too many JSTOR articles in violation of terms of service.
Yet just after 1 p.m. on Friday, the video had been removed from the video sharing site Vimeo, presumably at the request of EMI, which, with the King estate, holds the rights to the speech. You may not realize it, but, as Vice’s Motherboard explained, “You’d be hard pressed to find a good complete video version on the web, and it’s not even to be found in the new digital archive of the King Center’s website. If you want to watch the whole thing, legally, you’ll need to get the $20 DVD.”
Civil disobedience has almost always been about expression. Generally, it’s nonviolent, as defined by Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, and King. Maybe the disobedience includes marching and gathering on the streets—against anti-loitering laws. It can involve sitting at certain counters in restaurants or refusing to move from a seat on a bus. These peaceful acts of opposition are public expressions in public places. As we have learned from the court decisions in the 1960s, the First Amendment generally protects this sort of protest. Without the ability to criticize unjust laws, in powerful symbolic ways, we can’t change them. And the point of a democracy is that people should be able to convince other people to change a law.