If You Thought Copyright Was A Mess On Earth, What Does It Look Like In Space?

from the copyright-trolls.....-in.....-spaaaaaaaaaaaaace dept

Assuming you haven’t been under a rock, there’s a decent chance that you’ve seen astronaut Chris Hadfield’s rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity (with the lyrics conveniently changed to skip the whole dying in space part). The video was released just before Hadfield returned to earth, and completely fit with Hadfield’s time on the International Space Station, where he became the world’s first serious social media expert from space — tweeting, Tumbling and YouTubing up a storm. But… filming a cover song and releasing it via YouTube from space had some people wondering: can you untangle the copyright issues here? Thankfully, Glenn Fleishman dug in over at the Economist (which, lamely, still refuses to name their writers, but now provides the “initials” of bloggers, so you can parse out who’s who), and explained what a fine mess it is.

The punchline here is that it doesn’t really matter, because after a bunch of back and forth negotiations, they got all the permissions they needed directly from David Bowie. But, assuming others start going up into space (yay, private space tourism), this issue is going to be raised sooner or later. Glenn points out that it’s kind of messy, because different countries have very different compulsory licensing laws for cover songs, and there are no compulsories for sync licenses, which are needed to put the song to a video. There was also the issue of the International Space Station having different sections “owned” by different countries, and the official agreement says that it matters where creation happens — so if the video had been done in all different parts of the space station, it potentially could have been a mess (though, it looks like it was all filmed in parts owned by NASA).

While there’s no issue with this specific case, Glenn alerts us to a paper from a few years ago that lays out how copyright in space is about to get complicated:

The copyright issue may seem trivial, but the emergence of privately funded rocket launches, space tourism and space exploration hold the potential for more substantive disputes. If an astronaut were to travel to the Moon, an asteroid or Mars on a privately funded spacecraft, the situation would become knottier still, because the United Nations Outer Space Treaty of 1967 applies to countries, not companies or private individuals. J.A.L. Sterling, a London-based expert on international copyright law, anticipated all this in a 2008 paper, “Space Copyright Law: the new dimension“, in which he lists dozens more potentially problematic scenarios that could arise, some seemingly risible at first. He asks what would have happened if, on a moon landing broadcast live by NASA across the world, two astronauts were overcome by emotion and burst into song—one covered by copyright. NASA might still be engaged in litigation 40 years later. More prosaically and immediately plausibly, Sterling considers space travellers who put copyrighted material from Earth on a server reachable from space, or engage in rights-violating “public performances” for crewmates. If the first person to walk on Mars decides to launch into “A Whole New World”, the rights will need to have been cleared with Disney first.

Yeah, remember Rob Reid’s funny sci-fi novel about copyright in space? Perhaps, like many sci-fi books, it will eventually turn out to be an accurate prediction of the future.

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Comments on “If You Thought Copyright Was A Mess On Earth, What Does It Look Like In Space?”

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btr1701 (profile) says:

> If the first person to walk on Mars
> decides to launch into “A Whole New World”,
> the rights will need to have been cleared
> with Disney first.

I don’t see why. Neither the United States nor any other country have jurisdiction on Mars. Their laws don’t apply on Mars. There is *no* copyright law on Mars. Any person who happens to be there is free to do anything they like with any song they like.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You do actually. Well not “you” specifically, but the 1967 Outer Space Treaty established all of outer space as an international commons by describing it as the “province of all mankind” and forbidding states from claiming territorial sovereignty. Doesn’t say anything about copyright though.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

But Disney will say that since the astronaut is (more than likely will be) American, and so will the rocket and lander, that US style copyright law does apply. I can see the copyright maximilists rubbing their hands in glee at this prospect – they’ll seeks to secure licences from Mars One, just in case, and given past behavior, I wouldn’t be surprised if their licences cost so much that Mars One goes bankrupt.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

But Disney will say that since the astronaut is (more than
likely will be) American, and so will the rocket and lander,
that US style copyright law does apply.

Disney can say whatever it likes. Doesn’t make it true. The fact that a person is an American citizen doesn’t mean U.S. law follows them around the universe wherever they go. A U.S. citizen can go to Amsterdam and legally smoke pot even though it’s illegal to do so in the U.S. Likewise, a U.S. citizen could go to Mars and copy, play, and sell (if there was anyone else to sell to) the entire Disney DVD library and no law would be violated.

Despite the recent delusions of grandeur by a few Justice Department officials, U.S. law only applies in the U.S. It doesn’t even apply 20 feet over the border in Canada. Why the hell would it apply on Mars?

To claim otherwise would essentially be claiming that the U.S. Congress has the legal authority to bind the entire universe with its laws, and that’s laughable on its face.

DannyB (profile) says:

Copyright in space raises a number of important issues

If you are listening to music or watching a video in orbit, the music/movie needs to stop when the spacecraft passes into the territory of a country where the music/movie or television program is not available.

When you start the movie/music, you need to select the region codes you are authorized to listen within.

The cost of syncing the spacecraft flight control orbital information with the Macrovision Quality Protection region coding server is to be borne by someone — anyone else — except Hollywood.

The $10,000 per pound launch cost of such licensing servers are also not Hollywood’s concern.

If you infringe copyright, the detailed logs of what territory you were over when the infringement occurred need to be available (at someone else’s expense, of course) in order for Hollywood to know how many jurisdictions to have you extradited to and sued within.

Another module for the licensing server is to keep track of the length of copyright in each territory you pass over. This is an excellent reason why all countries should just standardize on infinite copyright in order to ‘simplify’ everything.

If anyone on a spacecraft is suspected of infringement, a DMCA notice should be able to quickly and easily cut off all communication between the spacecraft and the ground or any other spacecraft or satellites. If the DMCA notice was in error, a counter notice can be filed when the crew returns to the ground.

I’m sure there are other complex issues that will need to be considered as well. Thank goodness the RIAA and MPAA will be blazing the trail of innovation and helping us to solve these important issues that everyone on planet earth cares so deeply about.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Copyright in space raises a number of important issues

Actually, it’s all quite feasible. The entire equipment needed is a sheet of paper and a space-pen or pencil. The astronaut will need to carry out the following steps in order to create a complete log of their stay for copyright purposes:

1. Secure the sheet of paper in writing position

2. Grasp the space-pen or pencil or other writing implement in your writing hand.

3. Ensure that the writing implement is primed for writing – remove the space-cap from the space-pen, sharpen the pencil or do whatever actions are necessary.


5. You have a complete log of your stay in space.

Anonymous Coward says:

How about inner space? That moment in the near future when the Internet moves into your brain/body?

Jesus! When everybody becomes an ISP? Or even worse, each of us is the equivalent of Google? Is Hollywood going to try and prevent us from re-remembering what we just saw, what with out digitally enhanced iEyes?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Your Thoughts Have Been Copyrighted by Disney

I actually wrote an essay about this:

If you think about Mickey Mouse, are you infringing Disney’s copyright? What if you willfully memorize a copyrighted poem? Think hard; the answer could be worth $150,000 in court.
According to the law, copyright protects ?original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now or later developed, from which they [the works] can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.? (Emphasis mine.)
Note the word ?tangible.? You might assume this would exclude your thoughts from copyright protection?after all, you can’t touch a thought. But thanks to new advances in neuroscience, the intangible is now becoming tangible. And it’s all thanks to ?the aid of a machine or device.?
In 2011, researchers used a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) device to extract visual images directly from the brain. Test subjects were shown a Hollywood movie trailer, and their brain activity was monitored. By analyzing the subjects’ brain activity, the researchers were able to reconstruct the original movie trailer from thought alone.
I can just imagine the conversation that went on in the lab:

Researcher 1: Well, here we have this awesome new technology. How should we test it out?
Researcher 2: Let’s make copies of copyrighted Hollywood movie trailers.
Researcher 1: Oh boy, no more DRM!
Researcher 2: I’ll skip past these FBI warning messages so we can get started.

It gets better. Their reconstruction process entailed searching for clips on YouTube that best fit whatever the subject was thinking about, then mashing the clips together to create an icky, blurry, yet still recognizable version of the original Hollywood trailer. So the researchers not only reproduced copyrighted movie trailers, they also created an unauthorized mashup comprised of copyrighted YouTube clips. I just hope for their sake that they didn’t circumvent any Digital Rights Management protections that might have been protecting those trailers; the Motion Picture Association of America disapproves of that.
But it gets even better. More recently, a group of neuroscientists created the rodent equivalent of a Borg hive mind. With the help of cutting edge brain-to-brain interfaces, two rats separated by thousands of miles were able to share thoughts with each other over the internet to solve a common task. And by ?share? I mean that one rat stole stole copyrighted thoughts from the other rat without permission. How long will it be before rats connected in peer-to-peer networks are sending pirated seasons of ?Game of Thrones? to each other?
And that’s not all. Researchers have been able to pinpoint individual neurons devoted to storing memories. For instance, there is a specific neuron in your brain that is lighting up right now as you think about the copyrighted character Mickey Mouse. Ask yourself: did you get permission from Disney to reproduce Mickey’s iconic image in your neuron? Or are you pirating images of him with your innate human copying capabilities? Whatever you do, don’t imagine a picture of Mickey Mouse wearing a pirate hat, or else you’ve created an unauthorized derivative work and can someday be held liable for copyright infringement when it becomes possible to record your infringing memory ?with the aid of a machine or device.?
While you’re at it, control your dreams too. The same fMRI machine used to copy Hollywood movie trailers can also be used to replay your midnight ruminations. In one particular dream, a test subject was found to be visualizing some kind of printed document, doubtless a noninfringing original work or a public domain document from Project Gutenberg. It is of course illegal to reproduce copyrighted documents, videos, sound recordings, etc. regardless of the medium through which such reproduction is achieved (for instance an fMRI machine). In the future, those who choose to record their dreams will need to be careful to respect the rights of creators by not dreaming about copyrighted TV shows, movies, songs, characters or books. Although some limited usage of copyrighted material may be permissible for personal use or for purposes such as commentary, parody or news reporting, the law is clear that in most cases it is illegal to copy or distribute copyrighted material with your mind.
Now let’s fast forward twenty years, to a point in time when you can back up your memories on the cloud and upload your dreams to Youtube. You can also download thoughtfiles from the internet directly into your brain and share your thoughts with the Facebook hive. One can readily envision how this situation could present a challenge to creators concerned about controlling their work online. I believe that it is more imperative than ever that we move to combat the looming threat of thought-based piracy.
In the upcoming rewrite of the copyright law, legislators should explore extending the DMCA process into the realm of the mind. For example, creators can work together with search engines and ISPs to voluntarily monitor users’ neurons for infringement. If a pirate imagines copyrighted content or tries to share restricted thoughts with other users, a takedown notice can be sent and the infringing idea quickly blocked. There also needs to be funding set aside for programs that educate casual downloaders about the law; for example, some users may not realize that it is illegal to download memories, thoughts or dreams about movies, music, art, and literature from thought-sharing sites.
Lastly, the new law should introduce stiffer penalties for DRM circumvention and thought-sharing. Sites that deliberately enable copyright violations should be blocked from users’ minds; we also need more stringent punishments for those who would abuse the human brain’s natural creativity in order to create unauthorized derivative art on sites like YouTube, DeviantArt, Etsy and Fanfiction.net. Piracy is responsible for billions of dollars in lost sales, and better education and vigorous enforcement are necessary to meet the challenges of the digital age. By maximizing the powers of rightsholders and minimizing the rights of everyone else, we can achieve a fair and balanced copyright law fit for the 21st century.
The American economy relies on strong protections for copyright. The next great copyright act must provide real protections for creators, demonstrate respect for property rights, and punish thought-theft so that we can encourage the creation of new works and enable our creative industries to remain competitive in a global marketplace. The value we place on controlling thoughts today will send a powerful message about the role of the human imagination in the society of tomorrow. Let’s join together to preserve copyright for another 200 years!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Your Thoughts Have Been Copyrighted by Disney

I’ve said this before: Orwell was right, he just got the players wrong.

Big Brother is not the government, it’s the Borg of the corporate legal industry. And the Thought Police don’t care about political dissidence, only whether you have paid the proper license fee for those thoughts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hehe. Copyright on Mars – what a mess. But I think Earth copyright can’t be easily extended to Mars. At least not until Earth corporations would get a grip over it (i.e. aka “Total Recall”). Mars colonists can establish their own laws, not being bound by Earth copyrights.

Rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity…

Here is an older composition on this subject – Intercosmos by NOM (which isn’t that widely circulated of course):


James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Again, the real issue is reimportation. We will want to watch the Mars Landing. But if the astronauts are singing an inspirational tune, or have one playing in the background, the audio track is in trouble. And the “company” established to finance the colony mission is likely incorporated in a Bern Convention state, meaning all of your support could come out from under you as the follow up supplies cant be shipped, cause the colony venture was sued for the colonists actions, and now has no money….Until the colony is self sufficient, it cant form a truly independent government, and therefore will be held in some fashion to Earth copyright.

Anonymous Coward says:

the things that copyright is going to be responsible for, more than anything else, is the way the world was held back in it’s progression. how inventions were kept in limbo for years, inhibiting perhaps our very exploration of space and preventing the colonization of other worlds. i bet there will even be disputes over the naming of new worlds because a movie studio reckons it used the name in an episode of Star Trek and therefore wants paying for 1,000 years or the name cant be used. amazing really how mans greed can and probably will be his undoing!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Its is not only the Inventions that are held in limbo, but also the people who fail to obtain an education because of the price of textbooks, and the inability of people to translate them into native languages.
The Internet could make all the worlds knowledge and culture available to whoever wants it at near zero cost. The fact this is being prevented by greedy middlemen is a tragedy. Not only does it leave people in ignorance, it also leaves them dependent on the west for solutions to their problems.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

More likely a law like HADOPI, rather than a collection society like GEMA. ;=)
However I am pretty sure that the sum of all copyright is significantly more restrictive, making France or Germaby look like a piracy paradise. I mean, combine EU laws with almost complete control for the copyright holder and a demand for a warrent to be able to remove infringing content (officially…) with the US where there are lawgiven fair use and DMCA. The sum would be almost complete control for the copyright holder and DMCA-systems to remove content (which is close to how it really works!). Add to that the japanese anticircumvention laws on DRM, the three strike model of the kiwis, with Swedens nasty federal offence infringement, use of US intelligence data to discover infringers and the ITU DPI standard to control data submission. Then we are dealing with extremely nasty stuff.

Of course the copyright industry will find it insufficient, since nothing should be spared to defend their livelyhood. They will ask for protected top-level domains (.music for all music and removal on sight on any other domain, combined with national domain-names being 100% restricted to only local traffic), a DRM-standard in HTML5, a complete 3rd party liability for sites, ISPs and advertisement agencies and better content ID markers.

Imagine that world…

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