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I was literally shocked when I found out that the outstanding documentary Eyes on the Prize, that chronicles the struggle for civil rights regardless of race in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s, could not be redistributed or shown again because the copyright licenses that the filmmakers had to show much of the footage of marches, rallies, atrocities, and interviews had expired, and there were no plans to renew them. Why? The Downhill Battle website [ http://www.downhillbattle.org/ ] explains:

“So why has Eyes on the Prize been unavailable for the past 10 years? Copyright restrictions. For example, the film includes footage of a group of people singing “Happy Birthday” to Martin Luther King. Incredibly, “Happy Birthday” is under copyright and some rights holders believe that they should be given licensing fees if the song appears in any film, even a documentary. (Yes that’s correct, “Happy Birthday” is restricted under copyright–so if you’ve ever sung it in a restaurant or a park, you could literally be breaking the law.)

But “Happy Birthday” is just the beginning. Eyes on the Prize is made up of news footage, photographs, songs and lyrics from the Civil Rights Movement that are tangled up in a web of licensing restrictions. Many of these licenses had expired by 1995 and the film’s production company, Blackside, could not afford the exorbitant costs of renewing them. “Eyes on the Prize” has been unavailable to the public ever since.”

Well then. Angry yet? Eyes on the Prize is widely regarded as the single best and most influential documentary on the civil rights movement ever made. Aging VHS tapes are the only remnant of the fine film, and all teachers have left to educate young people of the brave actions of their parents, grandparents, neighbors, and fellow citizens. Sadly, without it, it is a very real threat that the memory of the civil rights movement may pass from recent history into that “way back when” time that children rarely attempt to occupy their minds with.

So get involved; Wired News breaks the news gently here:
[ http://www.wired.com/news/digiwood/0,1412,66410,00.html ]
and download the movie, organize a screening, get involved here:
[ http://www.downhillbattle.org/eyes/ ]

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