Copyright in Space with Commander Hadfield and David Bowie

Space Oddity Hadfield Screen shot

David Bowie’s Space Oddity on the International Space Station

On May 13, 2014, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield announced on Twitter that his version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity performed on the International Space Station would be taken down from YouTube after his one year term of permission was over:

Bowie's last day - we had permission for a year, so our Space Oddity video comes down today. One last look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaOC9danxNo …

This led to an outcry from the general public who viewed the video over 22 million times during the year it was available including appeals to David Bowie to keep the video up.

Ownership of the Song Rights

The irony here is that the publishers Essex Music International, Inc. / Onward Music, Ltd. managed by Bucks Music Group, not David Bowie, own the rights to give permission to his song. Bowie was publicly criticized by many when he was actually supportive of the video and encouraged the publishers to allow Hadfield to use it for free for one year. Other versions of the video are still available on YouTube through SkyNews and many others who downloaded a copy.

International Space Copyright Concerns

An article in the Economist explains the fascinating copyright implications because it was in space, was international, and articulates some of the complications between creators, rights owners, and jurisdiction (the location of responsibility where legal cases are heard and decided).
Hadfield did a great deal of planning for the video and contacted David Bowie for permission. He also contributed some creative elements to the song including modified lyrics, background noise from the space station, and of course the stunning video footage from the Space Station.

The continuing development of this case study promises many more interesting discussions about the roles copyright and fair use in our culture. It can be argued that Hadfield’s video increased the awareness of the original work considerably and also rekindled the public’s interest in the International Space Station.

Correction (July 28, 2014):  A representative of Fairwood Music International notified me that they are not the music publisher and rights holder of Space Oddity and I’ve updated the post to reflect the correct copyright holder: Essex Music International, Onward Music/Essex Retentions c/o Bucks Music Ltd., Essex Music International Inc., Onward Music/Essex Retentions c/o Bucks Music. Fairwood does publish many other David Bowie recordings, like Ziggy Stardust, Let’s Dance, and Fame, but does not manage Space Oddity.

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