Questions of ownership have always plagued human existence, dating back to countless wars over tracts of land that more or less continue apace today. They’re also fought in the intellectual property space now, a less bloody but sometimes equally contentious arena. And much like the aforementioned wars, they have as much to do with avarice and rapaciousness and a generally unthinking, reflexive need by some to control as much as possible.
The latest case in point is the moon. You know, the big rock orbiting our planet. If I were to ask you who owns the moon, you’d rightfully scoff at me — no person or company or country could possibly claim ownership. And it would be likewise ludicrous to suggest that anyone has a right to ownership of any and all photos or videos of the moon, a claim which would equally be tantamount to claiming some sort of rights over the moon itself.
And yet there isn’t anything so absurd that we can’t see it within the current IP landscape. From Michael Zhang at PetaPixel comes the story of Philip Bloom, a filmmaker who shot and uploaded a video of the moon taken during his vacation in Greece. Nothing wrong or untoward about that, but of course there was a problem, because the story wouldn’t provoke comment if it was simply “Man Uploads Video of the Moon.” Bloom’s video was uploaded to Facebook and in short order received a notification that it was being blocked and flagged for copyright infringement.
The culprit? Universal Music Group, which asserted that Bloom’s video was somehow identical to video owned by the company, which, yeah, it’s the moon — there’s not a lot of variance in any shots of the moon by anyone. That fact doesn’t give ownership or copyright to whichever person is shameless enough to try and claim it. And maybe that’s not what UMG was doing; it seems probable that, like with YouTube and elsewhere, rightsholders are using programs to monitor posts and file claims against anything that gets flagged, no matter how specious the claim.
As a postscript, the story is amended to note that the claim against Bloom was rescinded after a week, but it’s not a case where you can say that all’s well that ends well. Bloom may have posted the video as a lark, but others use Facebook and similar platforms for income, and the time that posts are pulled down awaiting a verdict represent lost income for creators. It truly is a system that benefits those who flag anything and everything in question, offering little penalty for seemingly abusing the system. Companies like UMG can’t actually own the moon, but they can claim to, at least for a little bit, and that’s a problem for everyone.