Commander Hadfield's Amazing Cover Of David Bowie's Space Oddity Disappears Today, Thanks To Copyright

from the copyright:-making-culture-disappear-since-1709 dept

A year ago, we wrote a whole post looking at the copyright questions raised by Canadian astronaut, Commander Chris Hadfield, doing a cover version of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” along with an astounding music video in space, as he prepared to return to earth. Hadfield, for months, had been a great ambassador for the space program, using a variety of social media to communicate with folks back on the planet about what his day was like. The “Space Oddity” video just cemented his place as a key figure helping to generate interest in the space program through regular public communications with everyone in a very accessible way.

In our post, we noted that while the copyright issues were complicated, thankfully, it didn’t really matter “because after a bunch of back and forth negotiations, they got all the permissions they needed directly from David Bowie.” Except, as we find out today, that’s not fully true. Because Commander Hadfield posted on Twitter this morning that today is the last day for the video online, because they only had a license to use it for one year. As I write, the video is still online, so watch it soon.

It’s got over 22 million views, and it’s about to go away… because of copyright and the idea that everything needs to be licensed. This is really depressing, but it shows, once again, a situation that is destroying important cultural works, rather than helping to make them available. One would hope that David Bowie (and/or whoever else holds the copyrights in question) would recognize just how insanely bad this looks and would “grant” a perpetual free license to keep this video online. Bowie, himself, has had a rather progressive view of copyright for many years. Back in 2002, for example, Bowie declared that “I’m fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing,” and further noting that this is “terribly exciting.”

Well, it’s 12 years later, and copyright still exists, and the copyright on a Bowie song is about to destroy some culture. It would be nice if he was able to do something about it to stop that from happening.

And… now that there’s no more license, the copyright questions come back into play… and the answer is that it’s still “complicated.” The copyright depends on where the video was filmed. Since the International Space Station has different sections in which technically different countries’ laws apply. It is believed most or all of the video was filmed in the NASA section, meaning US laws apply. And while the US has compulsory licenses for cover songs, there may be some issues in that Hadfield modified the lyrics slightly (taking out the bit where Major Tom dies…). But, the bigger issue, unfortunately, is that sync licenses — which allow you to “sync” music to video — are not compulsory, and need to be licensed.

It is possible that someone could make a fair use argument here — it’s for non-commercial use, it’s arguably transformative, it likely helps rather than harms the market for the original work — but I’m not sure that would convince a judge.

Either way, I hope everyone can agree that it’s just sad that this video is disappearing.

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Comments on “Commander Hadfield's Amazing Cover Of David Bowie's Space Oddity Disappears Today, Thanks To Copyright”

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TheResidentSkeptic says:

PUBLIC loses again.

An Astronaut – whose entire career was funded by the PUBLIC – while in flight for NASA on the ISS – which are both funded by the PUBLIC – makes a magnificent transformative FAIR USE video for the PUBLIC to watch and learn and remember David’s version and the PUBLIC loses it for another ONE HUNDRED YEARS before it enters the PUBLIC domain (if ever).

Thank God copyright saves the PUBLIC from things like this by taking it down…

Jayson says:


I still am a believer for copyright to be cut down to 7 years – same as anyone’s credit history – and then it goes public domain. It enforces the content makers/publishers etc to deliver new fresh content. Not sit back and rake in cash years later. We all know they make the most from the content the first year it goes out, after 7 it hardly makes anything except forcing lawsuits for licenses etc. Stupid stuff that has nothing to do with the content to begin other than our teenage children would like to experience what we got to experience but can’t because the big heads say so.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Copyright

My own idea – partly out of an impression that there are some cases where a longer copyright can make sense, and partly as a form of compromise – is something like as follows:

* Initial copyright is automatic, without requiring registration or indeed any action, and lasts for a term of eight years.

* At the end of the eight years, the term can be renewed for another eight, by A: filing a properly reproducible copy of the thing covered by the copyright with some appropriate central archive, and B: paying either $1000 or 1% of gross revenues attributable to the control of the copyright over the preceding year, whichever is greater. (In effect, renewal requires registration.)

* This renewal can be repeated every eight years, up to seven times, for a maximum copyright term length of 64 years.

This seems to provide “something for everyone”. Under this model:

Copyright does not require registration, so even the small guys get copyright protection without need for paperwork et cetera – but renewal does, so we stop losing old works because no usable copy exists by the time the copyright expires.

The initial term is short enough that if no one cares the work will enter the public domain fairly quickly – but the maximum term is long enough to allow extensive exploitation of a work that turns out to be especially valuable.

The maximum term is short enough that people can reasonably expect to see anything created during their youth enter the public domain during their lifetime.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Copyright

$1000 is low enough that an individual who truly values the (control represented by the) copyright should be able to afford it once every 8 years. If the individual does not value the copyright that much, then the work should enter the public domain.

I wouldn’t be entirely opposed to setting it lower, but I’m concerned that if it’s too low, large holders of many copyrights might choose to continue paying the fee just to retain control even if they have no intention of exploiting the copyright – i.e., that they might keep the copyrighted work locked up for as long as they can, rather than making it available as soon as they no longer need it.

I’ll admit that some index value should be used instead of an explicit dollar figure, to avoid having it become trivial over time because of inflation. I haven’t got a good idea in mind for that, though.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Copyright

This is well worth a longer discussion, The Wanderer. I’d be more in favor of a ten year term to start with, but I’d limit renewal to three terms at the most, otherwise we’d end up with extensions, exceptions, and all kinds of crap.

The first and most important thing to do is get the idea of effort + output = property away from copyright. That’s at the root of all this.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Copyright

Thing is, $1000 is trivial for a company. That’s such a low amount they wouldn’t even think twice about paying it out, so every copyright they owned would always last the maximum amount of time you suggest(which I’d also argue is far too long, I’d be more in favor of the original 14+14, at most).

However, $1000 for your standard person? Over the course of 8 years, yeah, that’s fairly small spread out, but in a lump sum, that’s a pretty large expense to dump on someone.

The problem with such a fee system as ‘incentive’ to let something enter the public domain, is that any fee amount high enough that a company would actually be forced to think about the pro’s vs con’s of letting something go, is also going to be so insanely high that your average creator isn’t going to be able to pay it.

Conversely, any fee amount low enough that your standard individual creator would be able to reasonably afford, is going to be so low that a company wouldn’t even think twice about paying it to maintain ownership rights over a copyright.

Now, some sort of ‘incentive’ system, to give copyright owners a reason to release things into the public domain, or, more accurately, a reason not to just automatically keep renewing(under a renewal system of course), is certainly worth considering, but I don’t think a flat fee is the answer, though the percentage idea you also mentioned could be viable.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Copyright

“Initial copyright is automatic, without requiring registration or indeed any action, and lasts for a term of eight years”

No no no.

Automatic copyright is one of the worst things about copyright law today. Require registration (at no charge would be fine) so that we can at least have a record of who owns the copyrights.

RM Arthur (profile) says:

Compulsory Sync Licenses

I agree that sync licenses should be modified to follow the compulsory scheme of mechanical licenses. My copyright practice would be much simpler with that change in copyright law.

However, NASA could probably afford to just extend the sync license, given that they obtained one originally. It would probably just take an email.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Compulsory Sync Licenses

I agree that sync licenses should be modified to follow the compulsory scheme of mechanical licenses

Yup. Instead of getting rid of the rediculous and redundant license necessary to play a video and audio at the same time we should add more to the cumpulsory licensing.

Can anyone actually come up with a good argument to even have sync licenses?

The Ultimate Anonymous Coward says:


“Either way, I hope everyone can agree that it’s just sad that this video is disappearing.”

Avast, ye mateys! It’s not disappearing, because I have made a copy, which will be kept safely at an undisclosed location. And if and when copyright law is eliminated or rendered sufficiently sane, it will go right back up!

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Also available by torrent.

If Mr. Bowie wanted to score points, he could call his lawyers to just give an unlimited license to the public regarding Commander Hadfield’s performance.

Available on the Pirate Bay in 720p incidentally. Sharing is caring.

As of this posting I have not received a US National Security Letter or any classified gag order from an agent of the United States
This post does not contain an encrypted secret message
Tuesday, May 13, 2014 11:35:01 AM
prophet umbrella general jump ice cream pincer frock spark

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Also available by torrent.

If Mr. Bowie wanted to score points, he could call his lawyers to just give an unlimited license to the public regarding Commander Hadfield’s performance.

Except that it is likely that the copyright is held by whichever label he was with when he recorded it, as that was the only way he could get records made and available to his fans.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Also available by torrent.


I once wanted to put a (30 year old) song on a website I ran. I contacted the members of the (now defunct) band to see if I could get their permission to do so. Their response was: we have no say in this, the copyright is owned by the label. But, informally, they’d be very happy if I put the song up. Which I did. (user link) says:

Since he’s a “Canadian astronaut”, his use might fit into the “Non-commercial user-generated content” clause in Canadian Law.

“29.21 (1) It is not an infringement of copyright for an individual to use an existing work or other subject-matter or copy of one, which has been published or otherwise made available to the public, in the creation of a new work or other subject-matter in which copyright subsists and for the individual ? or, with the individual?s authorization, a member of their household ? to use the new work or other subject-matter or to authorize an intermediary to disseminate it, if

(a) the use of, or the authorization to disseminate, the new work or other subject-matter is done solely for non-commercial purposes;

(b) the source ? and, if given in the source, the name of the author, performer, maker or broadcaster ? of the existing work or other subject-matter or copy of it are mentioned, if it is reasonable in the circumstances to do so;

(c) the individual had reasonable grounds to believe that the existing work or other subject-matter or copy of it, as the case may be, was not infringing copyright; and

(d) the use of, or the authorization to disseminate, the new work or other subject-matter does not have a substantial adverse effect, financial or otherwise, on the exploitation or potential exploitation of the existing work or other subject-matter ? or copy of it ? or on an existing or potential market for it, including that the new work or other subject-matter is not a substitute for the existing one.”


I’ve heard some talk about how this could apply to “fan art”, cover songs and other non-commercial use – and there’s a chance the video might be permitted under this clause.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Can’t answer for jackn, but I would personally, if the footage was taken and used in the same way. A commercial obviously and specifically shot to promote Virgin Galactic flights would be questionable, but all being equal the identity of the person and the ownership of the flight shouldn’t make any difference.

It might be difficult to complete distinguish between a commercial and a genuinely viral video, of course, but I would err on the side of fair use. If Bowie complained and felt that the video was not fair use, then a court should decide.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hadfield "owns" the rights

Licensing is an obsolete concept.
Hadfield owns the rights to the “licensed” version of Bowie’s work appearing in Hadfield’s work.
Hadfield can grant permissions on this “version” to others.
Any contract to the contrary is preempted by federal copyright law.

Compare to Library of Congress’ posted rules for reproducing prints and photographs:

What About Copying One of P&P’s Images from a Book or Other Published Source?

If you are planning to copy and publish an image from a copyrighted, published source (e.g., a book), you should check with the publisher, since technically it owns the rights to the version appearing in the book–though few publishers realize that or seem to wish to control such copying.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I saw this article with less than two hours to go last night, and immediately made a point to grab a copy of the video using cclive, just to make sure that if nothing else I’d still have access to it if I ever want it.

I’ve seen it a few times, and it never really grabbed me as “great”, although I agree it’s good. It’s definitely a work of art, however, which should not be lost – and even disregarding that, just on sheer principle it’s inappropriate to lock up something that’s been (legitimately and) freely available like this.

JCHP says:

And an opportunity wasted

See, this is where a savvy guy would just walk up to Bowie and tell him:
“How about we make the best of this. Let’s make a new, pay-what-you-want album after asking people all over the Internet to remix Space Oddity and picking the best. Heck, let’s have you do a duet with Col. Hadfield and have THAT be the centerpiece of the album. For bonus e-cookies, let’s donate as much of the cash as we can to a charity picked by NASA and let’s allow people to pay in Dogecoin. Bowie, let’s make a piece of history.”

This, gentlemen, is how you make money. Not that I expect anyone at the RIAA-affiliated companies to even remotely see these sorts of opportunities as positive.

Allen (profile) says:

Another copyright SNAFU, but

Does anyone else think designating sections of a space craft as territory where one nation’s or another’s laws apply is absurd? I have visions of a TSA check point at the US airlock to keep the Russians out because, you know, Snowden. And is there something I should know about Astronauts that someone felt it necessary to consider the need to attach a jurisdiction to any part of the space station in the first place? It does my head in, it does.

Mark Noo (profile) says:

I want compensation for people effort

People should be compensated for their artistic endeavors. Fiction writers, musicians, sculptors, etc.
Our copyright laws are nearly impossible to administer. Everything from singing Happy Birthday to forwarding an email may be an infringement problem. Social media infringement alone could supply with lawsuits for a very, very long time.

I do not think the artists are the problem very often. I think it is the labels and studios for the most part who feel they need to be paid for everything.

Greed notwithstanding, the labels and studios have a legal responsibility to maximize shareholder wealth. Giving things away that could be charged for does not maximize shareholder weatlh.

Capitalism and the rules that guard it have some ethical problems. Captitalism is not the problem, it is the way we have implemented it that is. How do we repair a system that is basically fair but does not reconcile with our values. That is what is at issue: our values are not reflected in our copyright laws.

One of the biggest problem to reconciling the two is equal protection. If it is OK for one person but not OK for another, or if it is OK this time, but not OK that time, how do we make sure that essential function of equally applied laws is not diminished.
If the courts just look at the norms and values of the people in its jurisdiction than any financial incentive for artistic works will be serverely hurt. We will be sharing everything. If you make something worthwhile and are compensated for it you are likely to do it again. And if the compensation is adequate you may stop creating your art in your spare time and work on it all day instead. Thus producing more useful things.

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