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Did Covering ‘Space Oddity’ in Space Violate Copyright Laws?

We’ve written about copyright a few times in the past here on the Sage Audio mastering blog, primarily because as we move further into the digital music age, copyright laws will continue to be reinterpreted and rewritten. But one thing many might not have expected (or at least so soon) is that we would have to begin to look at copyright laws for outer space.

Space Oddity

But look at space copyright we must, for the issue has already come up. If you know who Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is, you know he’s the space king of social media. If you know the David Bowie song “Space Oddity,” then you’re like most other people in the world. But when Hadfield, near the end of his recent stay on the International Space Station (ISS) orbiting the earth covered the Bowie classic and uploaded it to YouTube, new levels of awesome were reached. You can (and should) check out the results in the video below:

However, it was quickly questioned if new levels of copyright infringement also were reached, considering that this may be the first time we’ve had to consider copyright cases in space.

TheEconomist raised the copyright question, and states that since Hadfield and the international space station are “only” 250 miles above the earth, they are still subject to terrestrial intellectual-properties laws. The article also points out that these laws would still apply if he were 100,000 miles above the earth, as the song mentions.

But things get more questionable when considering that most work done in the ISS (research, writing, etc.) is governed by the copyright law of the portion of the station where the astronaut is located. For example, if Hadfield was writing a research paper in the NASA-owned portion of the station, he would be subject to U.S. copyright laws. If he were writing in the Japan owned portion, he would be subject to Japanese laws.

To make matters more complicated, the video was transmitted to Canada where it was edited by those on the ground. Additionally, since Hadfield performed the song in front of others on the ISS, his rendition also likely qualifies as public performance.

So obviously there are quite a few questions surrounding the performance. Fortunately, in this case there is no copyright infringement because Hadfield and his son spent months securing the rights from representatives for Bowie, and hammering out details with NASA, Russia’s space agency and Canada’s space agency. Bowie’s former bandmate Emm Gryner even added a piano part to the video.

However, the copyright issues could prove to be a large issue as we continue to explore space, particularly as privately owned rockets are launched into space and space tourism becomes a thing.

The Las Vegas DUI attorney points out that if the first astronaut to set foot on Mars breaks out into a rendition of “A Whole New World,” the rights will have to be cleared with Disney first.

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