Political Insider

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King family wants say-so over MLK monument on state Capitol grounds

The family of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has served notice to Gov. Nathan Deal that it wants approval rights over any image of the slain civil rights leader erected on state Capitol grounds – if the state expects free use of King’s copyrighted likeness.

On MLK Day in January, before an Ebenezer Baptist Church congregation, Deal promised to work with the Legislature to give King a more prominent place on Capitol grounds. A bill to that effect passed the House on Monday.

That same day, the company that oversees the King estate sent a letter to Chris Riley, the governor’s chief of staff, to remind Deal that the King estate owns all rights to King’s “name, image, likeness, words, rights of publicity, copyrighted works, recorded voice, and trademark interests.”

The letter chides the governor for not getting in touch:

"When the media reported that the Governor referenced this initiative in remarks he made on the King Holiday, we expected to hear from your office and the appropriate parties seeking the Estate’s input and approval. To date, we have not received any formal request for permission to utilize any of Dr. King’s [intellectual property]. Nonetheless, we would be delighted to work with you on determining an appropriate way to honor Dr. King….Your assistance would be greatly appreciated in expediting our review of the proposal to honor Dr. King and thus provide input.”

In other words, the King estate is willing to allow the state of Georgia free use of the MLK likeness, but wants approval rights over the edifice.

This was the same-day, e-mailed response from Riley, the governor’s top aide (I’ve eliminated a typo):

“Mr. Tidwell:

We will continue to monitor the legislation. Please do not assume the governor would ever try to financially capitalize on the legacy of Dr. King. He is simply…trying to honor a great Georgian.”

Which brought a quick reply from Tidwell that includes this:

“The notion of monetizing Dr. King’s image on the part of the Governor never crossed our mind….This has to do with respecting property rights by including the rights holder in the process to determine how Dr. King will be honored….We look forward to working with you and having the opportunity to review the proposed legislation.”

FYI, HB 1080, sponsored by Democratic state Reps. Calvin Smyre of Columbus and Tyrone Brooks of Atlanta, does not offer any specifics of how King would be honored, but sets the process in motion.

See the entire exchange here:

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About the Author

Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.