Posts Tagged Moon mining
Vestigial intellectual property rights in space exist, but what about general property rights in space? Are there paths forward to enforce space real property rights (land ownership) and personal property rights (iPod ownership, unless it’s a really big iPod) via earth-based actions?
In order to explore these issues, let’s make a few assumptions. Assumption number one: when space is commercially exploited and settled, the United States will be the largest, richest market for space faring firms. Assumption number two: under the current legal regime, or under one hastily installed upon an individual or company seriously laying claim to land or minerals in space, a private ownership right in goods and services sent to earth from space is recognized.
With these assumptions in mind, a near term and long term path for real recognition and enforcement of property rights in space and on other celestial bodies exists. These enforcement mechanisms do not necessarily require a “space police” force in order to enforce those rights.
On the soccer field, it is not always entirely clear what behaviors a good sportsman should take, no matter how earnestly one pursues such laudable behavior. In some instances, rules guide players to sportsman-like behaviors. For example, it is considered unsportsman-like for the offense to cherry pick or to grossly outnumber the defense; therefore soccer’s offside rule was created. But this rule codifies only a narrow aspect of the custom of good sportsmanship in the beautiful game, leaving other aspects of sportsmanship defined by player custom.
In much the same way the offside rule was eventually created to explicitly direct soccer players toward fair behavior on the soccer field, international treaties like the Geneva Conventions are often created to delineate proper behavior from improper/war-like/criminal behavior throughout the world. Despite customs of humane treatment of others during war and traditions of good sportsmanship on the soccer field, neither the soccer community nor the international community have been able to put in writing and agree to a complete set of behaviors which proscribe the proper humane or sportsman-like action to take in every situation. In many areas, unwritten international custom defines the legality of an action. Lack of consensus or consistency of behavior can make it difficult to properly define customary international law.
When it comes to emerging industries like extraterrestrial resource mining, customary international law can seem like attempting to herd cats in zero gravity. Pinning down what is “fair” and “customary” in areas where no man has gone before can seem daunting but it also presents the unique opportunity to shape international custom by establishing them.
Recently, the Web (or at least the space-oriented part) has been filled with discussions, defenses, and even some dismissals of a proposal by the Space Settlement Institute called the Space Settlement Prize Act. This proposed law would create a framework for recognizing private ownership claims on the Moon and other celestial bodies. In other words, it would pave the way for private property on the Moon, something many believe the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (OST) prohibits. Who do we have to thank for this renewed debate? Rand Simberg, aerospace engineer and noted space policy commentator (among other things). Rand champions creation of private property rights in space. In a recent CEI paper on the subject, he points out that property rights are the sine qua non of wealth creation and argues that there is a loophole in the OST which allows private lunar land claims. I, too, am strongly in favor of personal, real, and intellectual property rights in space. Personally, I’d like to retire to my own modest crater overlooking the Sea of Tranquility one day. Jeff Foust and many others have done a great job of capturing the essence of Rand’s arguments so I will spare you my hackneyed attempts to condense the ever-growing conversation. Instead, let’s look at how the United States and other nations have already limited the reach of the Outer Space Treaty via patent law and customary international law. These limitations may provide support for adoption of the Space Settlement Prize Act but may also lessen the need for such an explicit confinement of the OST. Read the rest of this entry »