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Space Copyright: Legal Dispute in the Stars

September 12, 2014

By Alan Kilpatrick


More than a year ago, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded a rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity while on board and in command of the International Space Station. The video, featuring Hadfield floating weightlessly playing a guitar, was a viral hit garnering over twenty million YouTube views. Later in May 2014, The Globe and Mail suddenly reported, Chris Hadfield’s famous ‘Space Oddity video taken down.

Like many Canadians, I was left wondering what had happened to this popular online video. The answer, as it turns out, had something to do with the collision of space law and copyright law. The Globe article highlighted Hadfield’s explanation:

We had permission from David Bowie’s people to post the video on YouTube for a year, and that year is up,” they said. “We are working on renewing the licence for it, but as there are no guarantees when it comes to videos shot in space…

Days later, The Economist wrote an article, How does copyright work in space? “Commander Hadfield was only 250 miles (400 km) up, so he was still subject to terrestrial intellectual-property regimes…” Prior to blasting out of the Earth’s atmosphere, the article explains Hadfield met with Bowie’s legal representatives to seek permission and record the rendition.

Legal jurisdiction on the International Space Station is complicated. A variety of nations across the globe have cooperated to build the station and its individual sections. The International Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement explains,

National jurisdiction determines what laws are applicable for activities occurring on a Partner’s Space Station elements (e.g. European law in the European Columbus Laboratory). This legal regime recognises the jurisdiction of the Partner States’s courts and allows the application of national laws in such areas as criminal matters, liability issues, and protection of intellectual property rights.

Blayne Haggart, an assistant professor at Brock University, questioned the video’s removal in an Ottawa Citizen editorial, Bad copyright rules killed Hadfield’s Space Oddity. Haggart asserted,800px-ISS_after_STS-117_in_June_2007

The Hadfield Space Oddity takedown is the perfect example of how copyright, which is supposed to promote creativity and increase our access to knowledge and culture, all too often ends up doing the exact opposite.

Meera Nair, a copyright expert who studied at Simon Fraser University, offered a more positive perspective in a blog post,

Hadfield chose to remove the video himself, in compliance with the agreement he had made with Bowie, and that plans were underway to renew the license… It is quite possible that a future license is forthcoming. That we might have to wait to see the video again, should not be reason for a mass lament.

Space law is a rapidly developing and exciting legal area. As space travel becomes accessible and open to private companies and consumers in the near future, this area of law will continue to grow in importance and scope. In 1966, Margaret E. Farmer, a third year law student at the University Of Saskatchewan College Of Law, imagined the future of international outer space law in a Saskatchewan Bar Review article,

“The search for a legal regime in outer space has become one of the more fascinating exercises for international lawyers, and for the political, scientific, and administrative imagination.” This search is motivated by a growing awareness that outer space activities will affect everyone on earth with increasing force. The February, 1966, landing of the unmanned Soviet Luna 9 spacecraft on the surface of the moon emphasizes the possibility of a man’s landing on the moon in the near future. Before such a feat occurs, every effort should be made to establish an internationally organized legal regime which will exclude arbitrary rule and lawlessness…

This was only the beginning.


CBC News. (2013). Chris Hadfield music video rockets Saint Johner to success. CBC News: Retrieved from

Cresci, Elena. (2013) Goodbye space oddity: commander Hadfield’s viral video made private. The Guardian: Retrieved from

European Space Agency. (2013). International space station legal framework. European Space Agency: Retrieved from

Farmer, Margaret, E. (1966). International regime in outer space. Saskatchewan Bar Review, 31(1), 32-40

G.F. (2013). How does copyright work in space? The Economist: Retrieved from

Haggart, Blayne. (2014). Op-Ed: Bad copyright rules killed Hadfield’s space oddity. Ottawa Citizen: Retrieved from

Nair, Meera. (2014). Gratitude would have been better. Fair Duty: Retrieved from

Thanhha, Tu. (2014). Chris Hadfield’s famous ‘Space Oddity’ video taken down. Globe and Mail: Retrieved from

(Reposted from Legal Sourcery)

From → Copyright, Law, Technology

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