In early February, we put out an open letter to Elon Musk, asking him to put SpaceX’s photos into the public domain, noting that it was a shame that those photos would be locked up until long after we were all dead. NASA’s photos are all in the public domain. While I’m extremely excited about the things that private spaceflight can accomplish — it would be unfortunate if part of the deal was that we lost a great source of public domain imagery. Last week, the company started releasing its photos under a Creative Commons license, which was definitely a big step forward. However, we noted that we were still disappointed that it wasn’t a pure public domain dedication, and in fact had a “non-commercial” restriction. So we once again asked if Musk might consider going that one step further to the public domain.
Over the weekend, he did just that: Extra kudos to Elon Musk for recognizing the issue and making the decision so quickly. Of course, the above is not entirely accurate. For reasons that are beyond me, Flickr does not offer a CC0 Public Domain dedication as an option on photos, so it looks like SpaceX has switched the photos to CC BY 2.0, basically removing the non-commercial restriction, but still requiring attribution. Still, given Musk’s public statement, it seems likely that the company has no intention to enforce even that restriction.
One separate note: I was a bit surprised by the number of comments on our last story that seemed to indicate that it was absolutely crazy of me to dare suggest that a private company put photographic works into the public domain. This is unfortunate. It is depressing how much the myth that everything needs to be “owned” has become pervasive in society, often due to the false claims made by legacy industries. Freeing up works so that the public can benefit them has tremendous global benefits, even for the private interests who put those works into the public domain. Elon Musk recognized this with Tesla’s patents and he appears to be doing the same with SpaceX’s photos as well.
And, yes, freeing these photos likely will come back to benefit SpaceX as well. It will enable others to take those works and build off of them, perhaps doing research or publications that will increase the demand for SpaceX’s services in launching things (and, eventually, people) into space. And those benefits are likely to be much more valuable than whatever SpaceX might have gotten in a “license” deal for a few photos to some commercial source.
It’s astounding to me the short-term, narrow-visioned view of the world some people have, in which they think licensing is the answer to everything, not recognizing just how much innovation and freedom it naturally suppresses.