Thursday, August 05, 2004

Space Law 101

The Christian Science Monitor has an article on (as Slashdot puts it) Lawyers In Space. (And no, the article is not about launching lawyers into space as a means for diminishing the legal population! How dare you think such thoughts!!!) The CSM article (to create an acronym from thin air -- watch carefully, at no time will my hands leave my sleeves) discusses the application of law to space. While I've heard this kicked around a little before, this article does introduce me to two treaties governing (sort of) "space law" (as I will dub it).
"The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 provides the basis of all space law with its clear decree that no nation can claim ownership to any part of it, and all nations must agree to its peaceful use. The treaty was signed by all major space powers and remains the guiding light of space initiatives."
Okay, that sounds nice. So what's the problem?
"The [Moon Treaty of 1979] established a clear prohibition on private ownership of extraterrestrial real estate, and designated extraterrestrial resources as 'the common heritage of mankind.' But the Moon Treaty has received far less support than the Outer Space Treaty -- only five countries (none of them a major space power) have signed it: France, Guatemala, India, Peru, and Romania."
Ahhhh. So the first treaty (of 1967) only forbids nations from laying claim to space. We won't be seeing anyone standing on Titan saying "I claim this moon in the name of France!" No, instead we'll see a privately-funded astronaut standing on Europa saying "I claim this moon in the name of Microsoft!" No wonder the new space-race is between privately-funded entities!

A few other items of note from the article. Which, incidentally, is highly biased against the privatization of space (e.g. private ownership of lunar and celestial property).
"In 1993 three Yemeni brothers filed suit against the United States for trespassing. The property in question? The planet Mars. The brothers claimed to have inherited the planet 3,000 years ago from their ancestors. The US sent attorneys to Yemen to fight the charges." (The case was ultimately dismissed.)
I wish this one had been filed in the U.S. and had gone to a decision. I can only imagine how much fun the judge would have had with it. ("Since the plaintiffs could not produce any evidence of ownership, such as a deed, land record or other historical document, nor even any evidence that either of the plaintiffs had even set foot on this inheritance, this court must find in favor of the defendant.") It just sounds like so much fun!!! (Reminds me of the Mayo v. Satan case. The court questioned whether it had jurisdiction over "defendant chief fallen angel" and "noted that the complaint lacked instructions for service of process." Stellar, really.)

Last item of note on space law. In spite of the unsettled legality of space property ownership, some people/companies are making claims.
"A US-based company called The Lunar Embassy claims it possesses a legal basis and copyright for the sale of lunar and other extraterrestrial property. Through its website, interested buyers can purchase one acre of lunar property for $49.99."
Woot! Sign me up for a slice of heaven! Errr.. rather, sign me up for a slice of Luna. The article gives further examples, my favorite being the scientist who has made a claim on the sun (Sol):
"Most space lawyers, of course, say such claims are nonsense. 'I can try selling you the Atlantic Ocean or the Brooklyn Bridge also, but I won't get very far,' says Ospina. To prove this point, one space lawyer, Virgilu Pop, has claimed ownership of the sun. Mr. Pop registered his claim over the sun on April 28, 2001, and declared himself not liable for any damage caused by his property."

"His intent, he said in an interview with, was 'to show how ridiculous a property-rights system in outer space would be if it were based solely on claims unsubstantiated by any actual possession.'"
Smart move to disclaim liability for damage caused by his property. He could have been in some hot water otherwise! My prediction is that the next thing we'll see is "space insurance." (For only $195/month we will insure your lunar property against damage from moonquakes, lava flows, tornadoes, hurricanes, meteorites, comets, gravitational shifts and black holes. Supernova and Collision Insurance costs extra. Sign up now!) THIS is what I really think of when someone says "space." Not that ancient rocketry and jumping around on the moon. No siree. I'm gonna buy a chateau on the moon, get some insurance for it then plan on using it as my retirement property. Ahhh. Now THAT is what I call a good time!