Dear Elon Musk: Please Put SpaceX Photos In The Public Domain

from the help-the-public-out dept

I'm excited about the upcoming world of privatized space flight. I think it will enable all sorts of innovations and explorations where NASA has cut back. Elon Musk's SpaceX is obviously the big name player in the space right now, though there are plenty of others working to get in as well. However, as Parker Higgins recently noted, one unfortunate downside of a new privatized space world is that space photos like the ones SpaceX just released... are likely not in the public domain. NASA has a huge gallery of public domain imagery that has been tremendously useful. This is in contrast to the European Space Agency, which uses copyright to block access to images. Hopefully that's not something we're coming to in the US, because then it would be a lot more difficult to share photos like this:
That said, there are still at least some questions about whether or not the images are really covered by copyright. Even though SpaceX is working with NASA, that doesn't matter, because government contractors have always been able to retain their copyright. It's only works created by government employees that are automatically public domain.

But... as we've discussed, copyright questions can get a lot more murky up in space. A couple years ago Glenn Fleishman spent some time digging through some of these items in analyzing the copyright issues of Commander Chris Hadfield singing a David Bowie song in space. From there, we find that there have actually been a few papers written about these questions, including Space Copyright Law: The New Dimension.

That paper raises a number of issues, including questioning whether an image "taken by a robot device without any human input of selection" won't be deserving of copyright because it lacks human authorship (remember the monkey selfie). But that may not be the case here. A human may have very much been involved in selecting the images from SpaceX, so they could very well be covered by copyright. Thus, we're back to the situation we feared: these shots are covered by copyright.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the story is over. There is a clearer answer, which is to have SpaceX declare that it will put the images from its spacecraft into the public domain as well. After all, this is the same Elon Musk who recognizes that patents often hold back innovation, and has thus agreed to free up all of Tesla's (and who has also admitted that SpaceX didn't spend much effort on patents). So he already recognizes that perhaps overprotecting via intellectual property is a bad idea.

So, now he can do the same thing with respect to those photos. While it's not a perfect solution, Musk can (and should) make use of something like the CC0 public domain declaration offered by Creative Commons to make it clear that these photos should be treated the same way that NASA's images are: as public domain materials for everyone to use.
Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: copyright, elon musk, nasa, photos, public domain, space
Companies: spacex

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Feb 2015 @ 4:39am

    Given Elon Musk's response to Matthew Inman when he requested that Musk help fund the conversion of Wardenclyffe Tower into a Tesla museum, I don't find it difficult to believe that Space X's images would be released into the public domain if people express interest in them.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Discord

The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...

Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.