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Harry Belafonte filed a lawsuit in federal court against Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s estate after it prevented him from auctioning off three MLK documents at Sotheby's in 2008. Belafonte was trying to raise money for charity.
Belafonte is suing Dr. King's estate to seek unspecified damages and a court declaration that he is the rightful owner.
The three documents at issue include:
Belafonte says the first was given to him by Dr. King himself; the second, by Dr. King's widow, Coretta Scott King; and the third, by Dr. King's close aide Stanley Levison, reports The New York Times.
He wanted to auction the documents at Sotheby's to raise money for Barrios Unidos, a charity that works with street gangs.
But Dr. King's estate wrote a letter to Sotheby's claiming the documents are "part of a wrongfully acquired collection," leading to the auction being cancelled.
Belafonte, who often provided financial assistance to the King family during the civil rights movement, believes Dr. King's three surviving children have drifted away from their father's values, reports the Times.
He's certainly not alone in his sentiment. The King children, who own the copyright to MLK's historic "I Have a Dream" speech, have become notorious for aggressively pursuing and enforcing intellectual property rights over relics from their father's legacy.
Fortunately for Belafonte, the King estate has a spotty record of winning in court. The estate may again run into familiar legal barriers -- namely, New York's three-year statute of limitations and insufficient proof of improper possession -- that it faced in a lawsuit against Boston University and a more recent suit against Dr. King's former secretary.
In the meantime, Sotheby's is storing the property in a storage vault until the dispute is settled.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.