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Fair Use Week: MLK, the Dodge Ad, and YouTube

The following is a guest post by Taylor Davis-Van Atta, digital scholarship coordinator at the University of Houston Libraries. This week, we’ll feature posts by members of the UH Libraries Copyright Team highlighting Fair Use/Fair Dealing Week 2018.

What Martin Luther King Actually Thought About Car Commercials | Nathan Robinson

What Martin Luther King Actually Thought About Car Commercials | Nathan Robinson

The use of famous figures’ words or images as marketing devices is nothing new, but during this year’s Super Bowl, Chrysler took the practice a bit too far. The car manufacturer used an audio recording of Martin Luther King, Jr., delivering a sermon about the importance of leading a life of service as part of an ad promoting its Dodge Ram truck. Though Chrysler obtained permission to use the recording from Dr. King’s estate, which owns the copyright to his works, the decision to use the civil rights leader’s words to market a truck struck many viewers as tone deaf.

View the original commercial as well as a selection of responses on Twitter.

But the strongest—and most entertaining—rebuttal to the ad came from Nathan J. Robinson, a doctoral student at Harvard, who replaced the commercial’s MLK Jr. voice-over with another portion of the same speech, “The Drum Major Instinct,” in which King derides the very sales tactic Chrysler used in making the ad. In the replaced audio, King states of advertisers, “those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion:”

“They have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff. That’s the way the advertisers do it.”

Robinson’s version of the ad, which appeared on YouTube, was apparently flagged and removed from the site by the platform’s Content ID system, an automated system designed to detect and delete videos that contain materials (audio, video, words, or images) that infringe on copyrighted works. However, because Robinson uses King’s words to criticize or comment on an existing work (the original ad) for noncommercial purposes, his video falls squarely within the provisions of Fair Use, and the video has been restored to YouTube. Enjoy.

Written by Esmeralda Fisher on February 27th, 2018 and filed under Featured