Copy of Martin Luther King's published original Letter From Birmingham
City Jail - Public Domain.
Download free and use however you please.
The "Letter From The Birmingham City Jail" was handwritten by Martin
Luther King on April 16, 1963, then slipped out of the jail, turned over
to his assistants on the outside, typed, copied, and widely disseminated
to various organizations and individuals as an "open letter" in order to
generate public support for Dr. King and his civil rights activities.
As an open letter, made available to the Public for publication without
restriction, it of course immediately entered the Public Domain and was
never thereafter eligible for copyright protection.
The first version of this letter was published with King's approval and
encouragement, without copyright notice, in May of 1963 by the American
Friends Service Committee. (Several other organizations and media also
published the letter at about the same time.) This first version of the
Letter is clearly in the Public Domain because the copright law in 1963
required that a copyright notice be placed on any publication in order to
obtain copyright protection. Without the copyright notice, the publication
immediately entered the Public Domain, where it now remains.
I have copied it as a .pdf file and posted it on the Internet at
You are invited to download this .pdf file and use it any way you choose.
At some later date, Dr. King revised this first version of the letter and
created a second version -- a more polished version, with numerous minor
changes -- which he then published, with copyright notice. It is this
second version which is now widely available in books and on the Internet,
with copyright now claimed by the heirs of the King estate. So this second
version is protected by copyright, but that copyright does not apply to
any of the first-version text which had already entered into the Public
Domain, only those parts which were new to the second version. The second
version shows a date of "April 16, 1963," in the text, but that is the
date of the handwritten original Public Domain first version, not the date
of the copyrighted second version.
I am now republishing this original Public Domain first version to the
Internet; and I am keeping it in the Public Domain. I could have edited
it, and written some comments, and placed my copyright notice on the whole
thing, thereby inhibiting its free and open dissemination. Instead, I am
encouraging all people to copy it freely, reprint it, repost it, discuss
it, critique it, and share it with all people everywhere, as Dr. King
originally intended forty-three years ago, when he wrote it in jail and
freely turned it loose into the world.
NOTICE to anyone who seeks to claim copyright on this Public Domain
speech: under the United States Code, 17-506(c), it is a Federal crime to
fraudulently claim copyright on material you do not really own. For
details, please see my page, False And Fraudulent Claims Of Copyright at .
Blessings to you. May God help us all.
Rev. Bill McGinnis, Director