Mainstream media outlet notices possible news!

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Last week President Obama signed the revisions to the Commercial Act that is being touted as allowing Americans property rights in space.

I have been following the news coverage of this event, and even though there have been many articles incorrectly pushing the above spin, only today was there a news story that finally noticed that these touted property rights would violate the Outer Space treaty.

The content of the second link above, though it notices the possible violations to the Outer Space treaty, is also still a pitiful example of journalism. It is very clear from reading the article that no one involved in writing it (the article’s byline is CBC News) ever read the newly passed law. I have, and found that nowhere in it does it actually grant Americans property rights in space. What it does do is demand that the executive branch support that idea and write a number of reports and studies to demonstrate that support.

The goal I think of this new law is to begin the political process towards the U.S. eventually pulling out of the Outer Space treaty. Congress is essentially stating that it doesn’t agree with the language of that United Nations treaty, and it wants the U.S. government to begin the process of either getting it changed, or preparing to pull out. (The treaty does provide language allowing nations to pull out. You give one year’s notice, and then do so.)

It would be nice if journalists who write about this subject did the simple and easy research necessary for reporting it intelligently.

Until they do, however, I guess people will just have to come here (written with a grin).



  • wodun

    Unless the reporter is a space cadet, they will probably have a hard time tracking down a space law lawyer. The top google search is a headline that looks like it was written about a squatch hunt.

  • You don’t need a space law lawyer to read the law. The new space law [pdf] is written in plain English and is quite easy to understand. Reporters just don’t bother to read it, and instead spend time quoting opposing opinions from so-called “experts” whose only real goal is to spin the debate.

  • wodun

    I guess I should have clicked over because they did find some space lawyers to talk to.

    Near as I can tell from reading various articles about this is that the debate centers around whether or not the OST is in conflict with this new act that allows US citizens to have property rights over materials obtained from asteroids but not the asteroids themselves.

    The Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act includes this passage that is linked from the article,

    ““§ 51303. Asteroid resource and space resource rights

    “A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource under this chapter shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States.”.”

    It does grant US citizens property rights over resources obtained. And the article makes the distinction between rights to asteroids and what is taken from them.

    The previous section, § 51302, does exactly what you said by demanding the executive branch support and report.

    I am not sure if § 51302(b)(1) is asking the executive to determine if § 51303 is a violation of international agreements. If it is, then the executive could simply say § 51303 is in violation of the OST and then § 51303 would be void due to other language in the bill saying all of this has to be in compliance with our international agreements. Or if the executive doesn’t say § 51303 is in violation of the OST, it is asking for justification for why it isn’t.

    “(1) the authorities necessary to meet the international obligations of the United States, including authorization and continuing supervision by the Federal Government; and”

    To me, and I am no lawyer, it looks like it does grant property rights over resources obtained but contingent on the executive deciding this doesn’t violate any agreements and that the executive provide a legal defense of why this is the case. Or maybe I read it all wrong.

    Is section § 51302(b)(1) what you were talking about when you said there was no actual property rights given?

  • Yes. The new law says the mined material will belong to Americans who mine it, except if such mining and possession should happen to violate international law. Which it does, according to the Outer Space Treaty. In other words, the new law is a feel good piece of nothing.

    However, the new law does do one thing: It states the sense of Congress and the United States, that Americans should have property rights in space, and that the Outer Space Treaty prevents this. As I noted, the new law is thus the first step towards getting the U.S. out of the Outer Space treaty, something I endorse heartily.

  • wodun


    I haven’t read the OST but have read a lot of back and forth on it with opposing sides using the same quotes but differing over what they mean. Both sides have good arguments about whether or not it applies to just nations or to individuals as well.

    I admit that I am rooting for the loophole position but if our government doesn’t support that view, it looks like space cadet advocates have a single issue they could all rally behind before they can pursue their individual interests.

    Private property rights are one of the things that has lead to the success of the USA. It is important that our views on property become the dominant ones in space, at least for us anyway.

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