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VCC copyright registration card for a medallion inspired by Apollo 11.
VCC copyright registration card for a medallion inspired by Apollo 11.

Apollo 11 and the Copyright Connection

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Fifty years after astronauts returned to Earth from the moon, the Apollo 11 mission still grabs our attention and sparks our imagination. This historic achievement continues to inspire new documentaries, retrospectives, and even artistic displays, such as the Library of Congress’ own display of quilts and books. I’m always astounded by the level of detail that went into the first humans stepping onto the moon. No matter how small, mission managers had to consider it. Copyright was no exception. From before the mission launched to well after astronauts touched back on Earth, copyright was there.

For instance, before the rocket launched on July 16, 1969, the mission team considered how astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins would occupy themselves on the three-day journey to and from the moon. With the advent of audio cassette tapes, astronauts could bring with them a personalized playlist of tunes; they could also record over the playlist if they had to record notes on those tapes. Mickey Kapp, who at the time was working for Kapp Records and had ties to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) dating back to the Mercury program, was tasked with creating the playlists based on Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins’ requests. He used his music industry connections to obtain permission to add these songs, including classics like Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” Barbra Streisand’s “People,” Blood Sweat & Tears’ “Spinning Wheel,” and more.

Once the astronauts reached the moon, they proceeded to image the lunar surface as never before. Because these pictures were created by NASA astronauts, who took the pictures as part of their mission with a U.S. federal government agency, the public can use these images free of charge. They are currently available on the NASA Apollo 11 Image Library, and copyright is the first item you read about on that page.

VCC copyright registration card for a medallion inspired by Apollo 11.
VCC copyright registration card for a medallion inspired by Apollo 11.

Apollo 11’s main mission ended on July 24 when the astronauts returned to Earth and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. However, in some respects it was only the beginning of the copyright story. A casual search for “Apollo 11” in the U.S. Copyright Office’s Virtual Card Catalog shows some of the materials people registered with the Copyright Office in subsequent years. What grabbed my attention were items of memorabilia such as an album of the stamps commemorating the landing and a medallion showing the Apollo lunar landing module.

Copyright has been a part of the United States’ time in space. While it is almost impossible to predict what astronauts will be accomplishing fifty years from now, a good bet is copyright will be part of that adventure just like it was during Apollo 11.

Comments (6)

  1. This is an odd article, in that first, the astronauts were going to the moon, where in 1969, I doubt copyright laws applied. Secondly, they didn’t need copyright clearance to merely record songs onto their tapes for personal use; and in any event, broadcast of the moonshots that featured snippets of the songs would have been covered under fair use.

  2. 25 July 2019

    TO: Ms. Alison Hall
    U.S. Copyright Office
    Washington, D. C.

    Thank you for posting your written article concerning the role that U. S. Copyright Law had in connection with the United States Apollo II Moon mission in 1969. I particularly, appreciated learning about the role Mr. Mickey Kapp accomplished ,for and during perform during the mission planning stage, that is, to request prior permission from the copyright owner/s to play and use existing copyrighted sound recordings for the entertainment and pleasure of the astronauts during the flight. That is a great piece of U. S. copyright history and a wonderful article. Thank you.

    Best regards,
    Warren E. Brown, Esq
    Washington, D. C.


  3. I completely agree. The laws on copy write hasnt improved all that much in 50 years

  4. I completely agree right now the us is fighting with china on copyright infringement helping companies who copy right material to be protect. it is a very big issue and has been bought to the front line

  5. Apollo 11 and the Copyright Connection

  6. It is the American Tax Payers who funded and own all of this material. To withhold it from the use of the American taxpayer is a gross abuse of power that must be reversed, or we must never fund any other endeavor without explicit statement reflecting this.

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