Copyright in Outer Space

“In due course we may see the presence of thousands of human beings in Space. What copyright law will they take with them, and how will it be exercised and administered?”

C-Space– asks extraterrestrial copyright specialist Adrian Sterling, who is a Professorial Fellow at Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute, University of London.

“It appears that no national law at present deals specifically with the issues raised by the use in Space of material protected by copyright or related rights.”

In his paper Space Copyright Law: the new dimension. A Preliminary Survey and Proposals (Version of 15 December 2008) he gives many examples of potentially contentious copyright issues which could arise – for instance :

“An astronaut on the Moon creates a work. Is the work protected by copyright? If so, will the astronaut or the Government entity responsible for the expedition be the copyright owner?”

“A member of a Lunar expedition performs on the Moon a copyright work and the performance is broadcast throughout the World by the Government entity in charge of the mission – all without the permission of the copyright owner. Does an action for infringement lie against the performer or the Government entity, and if so, on what grounds and in which countries?”

“How do the existing international copyright and related rights instruments apply in extraterritorial areas – or do they apply at all?”


“ ‘Space’ includes all areas of and the celestial bodies in the Universe beyond Earth’s territorial airspace.”

Bonus Task [optional]: Unravel the legal copyright complexities of the following scenario, in which NASA’s Curiosity rover celebrated its Martian birthday on August 5 (PDT) 2013, a year after the day that it landed on Mars.

Bearing in mind the following factors:
• Disharmony regarding the copyright status of ‘Happy Birthday to You’
• The work was performed in Space.
• It was ‘sung’ by a robot, which is non-human.
• NASA’s output is in general considered public domain/copyright free.