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Who owns the Curiosity landing footage?

The suspenseful – but successful – landing of the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars earlier this week may have been one of the most visible space missions NASA has enjoyed in recent years, with a great amount of fanfare before, during and after its descent (including live mainstream coverage both online and broadcast, something that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration hasn’t really had in quite some time). In fact, the subject has been so popular that multiple organizations are claiming ownership of the footage of the landing – despite the fact that it’s actually in the public domain, like all NASA footage.

The multiple ownership claims – with at least five different organizations laying claim to the NASA footage – were uncovered (by accident) by CT Tech Junkie blogger Lon Seidman. Siedman had livecast a three hour discussion about the Curiosity landing via Google+ hangout, going on to archive it on YouTube with the intent of using it to potentially drive more traffic to his site. Instead, he found himself being faced with five claims that he was using copyrighted material by including the NASA footage of the landing. “I just came home to my inbox filled with dispute claims from no less than FIVE news organizations claiming this footage as their own,” Seidman wrote on Google+. “And now YouTube says it might start running ads against content I created and handing that money over to these crooks who are essentially bigger players with the ability to claim rights to content they do not own. The worst part is that Google clearly is not requiring these ‘rightsholders’ prove they actually own the content. But it’s somehow incumbent upon me to prove my innocence.  This is outright theft of my content – plain and simple.”

The five organizations challenging Seidman’s ownership not only of the NASA footage but his entire Google+ livecast are, according to YouTube: RTVE, NextRadioTV, Al Jadeed, TV9 and France 24. Their claims came through YouTube’s Content ID system, created to allow copyright holders an additional method of identifying their content on the site following the Digital Millennium Copyright Act going into effect in 1998. While the Content ID system does make it easier for copyright-infringing videos to be flagged, Seidman is correct in noting that it doesn’t really offer an appropriate right of response from those who have been unfairly tagged. Although Seidman can contest the claim, the claimant has an additional month to rebut the rebuttal before a final decision is made (It doesn’t necessarily take that long; you’ll remember that Mitt Romney’s Al Green-quoting video was turned around in less than a week).

The strangest thing about this case is that none of these companies actually own the footage, which shows up another flaw in YouTube’s system; it is officially NASA property, which means that it’s in the public domain like all US federal government releases. It’s one thing for the copyright owner to dispute someone’s use of material, but as this case demonstrates, apparently anyone can dispute any footage and cause trouble for a content generator, if they so wish. Somewhere in Google, I hope someone’s planning to take care of that.

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