UPDATED Bowie's takedown of Hadfield's ISS "Space Oddity" highlights copyright's absurdity

Update: The Ottawa Citizen has retracted its article about the takedown of Hadfield's video. The article incorrectly said that Bowie had not renewed the license for this work. The truth is that Bowie had sold the right to this song, and the owner of that right was the intransigent party. The more important point of the article, though, is that none of this would matter if Hadfield had recorded the song and put it out on CD instead of on Youtube, because we have a relatively sane system of compulsory licenses for sound-only recordings; the law has not made the obvious step of expanding to cover Youtube covers, and that means that wonderful work like Hadfield's is at the mercy of capricious rightsholders in a way that it would not be if it were made in older media.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield's cover of Bowie's Space Oddity was a worldwide hit, and now it has been disappeared from the Internet, thanks to a copyright claim from David Bowie. Ironically, if Hadfield had recorded the song and sold it on CD or as an MP3, there would have been no need for him to get a license from Bowie, and no way for Bowie to remove it, because there's a compulsory license for cover songs that sets out how much the performer has to pay the songwriter for each copy sold, but does not give the songwriter the power to veto individual covers (that's why Sid Vicious was able to record "My Way").

As Blayne Haggart's Ottawa Citizen editorial points out, it's hard to make a utilitarian argument for copyright that lets musicians determine who can make Youtube videos from their songs, given that covers are such an accepted part of musical practice. As Haggart writes, "Is the world a better place now that this piece of art has officially been scrubbed from existence?"

Sometimes, the law is an ass. And copyright law, as it’s metastasized over 300 years, definitely possesses ass-like qualities.

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. Instead, it becomes a way for copyright owners – usually large multinationals, not actual creators – to control what gets created and seen.

Most people lucky enough not to spend every waking moment thinking about copyright may think that’s just fair – it is their stuff, after all. But what this completely understandable, instinctive response misses is that this will to control often ends up being a veto over the future creation of knowledge and culture.

Op-Ed: Bad copyright rules killed Hadfield's Space Oddity [Blayne Haggart/Ottawa Citizen]


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  1. awjt

    If you count being a Jew, whose family was exterminated in the gas camps, escaping with your life and a few papers, finding your way to the US, and getting a job in the space program to be "rising from the ashes of Hitler's Germany" then you are one hard case, Hamish. Karl Rove would like to interview you for a position at Fox.

  2. nemomeno

    You haven't got any idea what you are talking about, and are ranting based on some imaginary NASA ungrounded in facts and evidence.

    I was referring to what he did once the war was over.

    NASA. As opposed to the military/DoD side. You are aware that the military has had and still has its own space program, right? Von Braun was actually working for the Army's space program before he moved to NASA.

    NASA does not produce weapons or military technology. The American ICBMs, military satellites, etc. aren't part of NASA, they are run by the DoD.

    A lot. First there's the spin-off tech:

    NASA's work has contributed to advances in health and medicine, transportation, public safety, consumer goods, environmental and agricultural resources, computer technology and industrial productivity. Their scientific contributions through Hubble, Chandra, Voyager, JWST, Mars Rover, etc. are massive, and NASA up to now has been the single most significant modern source of advances in astronomy and space exploration.

    Cutting NASA's budget 100% would have no effect on American imperialism, since the military space program is independent from NASA.

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