You’re free to use this picture from Apollo 4 (Photo credit: NASA).
To date, the U.S. government has been a major player in space exploration, technology, and photos. Under 17 USC §105, all photos taken and shared by the U.S. government are not subject to copyright law and free to be used by the public!
But as more private entities are exploring space, and launching payloads and with a rise in social media and photo sharing, what Copyright Laws come into play?
But you’re not necessarily free to use this one! (Photo Credit: SpaceX)
Apollo 8 lifts off from Cape Canaveral on December 21, 1968. Image credit: NASA.
My favorite NASA image is AS8-14-2383, taken by William Anders on Christmas Eve, 1968. More commonly known as Earthrise, this photograph was taken the very first time humans orbited the Moon! The image of the Earth as a pale blue dot rising over the desolate surface of the Moon has been credited with birthing the environmental movement. Earthrise is a public domain image, free for use by anyone because the photograph was taken by a US astronaut on a NASA mission. Under the copyright law of the time, the federal government could not claim copyright in photos, writings, movies, and other creative works it made. The same holds true in modern copyright law. 17 USC §105 denies copyright protection for works produced by the federal government.
Earthrise. Image credit: NASA.
Earthrise has been copied, revised, adapted for other media, integrated into other pictures, and modified countless times by a multitude of people. Similarly, other NASA images, like the beautiful pictures captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, are often wildly popular in their original forms as well as inspiration for modified creative endeavors. Despite using an image not granted copyright protections, makers of pieces based in whole or in part on government creations may have limited copyright protection because they have produced “derivative” or “compilation” works.
This license will probably not help bring your patented technology to market...
Like many emerging technology fields, the commercial spaceflight industry has a long close relationship with their patent attorneys. Patents are an excellent way for companies to maintain the hard-won competitive edge the skull sweat of their R&D group has created. Even before man made it to space, patents and patent applications have been filed on a variety of space-related technologies including: rocket steering systems (filed 1952!), escape tower rockets (filed 1959 on behalf of NASA), and sea-based recovery of space launch vehicles (filed 2009 by Blue Origin). Intellectual property rights protect new technologies and provide a potential avenue for royalty profits through licensing. What is a license, you ask, and how can it boost the company bottom line? Continue reading
Image credit: Bitter Lawyer
In the coming weeks, IPinSpace, everyone’s favorite, intrepid, niche-among-niches blog about intellectual property and space will be rolling out a new recurring segment—the Space IP Roll Call, SIPROC for short (you can’t build any space cred without the ability to generate awkward acronyms!)! Each SIPROC post will focus on a specific piece of intellectual property owned by an aerospace company that is interesting to IPinSpace’s chief scribe, Andrew Rush, and/or to you, the reader! Feel free to send in suggestions regarding what trademarks, copyrighted material, patents or patent applications you think would be cool to hear about in SIPROC.
The intellectual property addressed in a SIPROC post can come from anywhere—NewSpace, OldSpace, BigSpace, LittleSpace, CommercialSpace, NASA, etc. For an idea of what the differences between all those crazy terms are, check out HobbySpace’s description! Continue reading
Earthrise. Taken by William Anders on Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve 1968. It's also my computer's background!
NASA has taken some pretty awesome pictures over the years. In order to capture these amazing photos, NASA has spent billions of dollars on telescopes, robotic missions, and manned missions. Because it was so expensive to produce these photos, it must be pretty expensive for private individuals to use them, right? Companies like Universal sue downloaders in order to defend their copyrights in box-office failurs like Waterworld, after all, so NASA must be trying to protect their investment too! Wrong.
NASA is a government agency, and new material they create, like photos, which would be subject to copyright protection if made by a group like Universal, is explicitly excluded from copyright protection under the law. Specifically, 17 USC §105 states: