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.