I saw this on Ars Technica the other day, but just got around to writing about it.
Elon Musk and SpaceX have decided to release all their photos in the public domain, just like NASA does. Of course the reason NASA’s photos are public domain is because they’re created by employees of the federal government and are thus ineligible for copyright. SpaceX is under no such obligation, which makes their move quite refreshing.
The photos are currently hosted on Flickr, and while they appear there under a Creative Commons license, that’s only due to a limitation of Flickr’s site.
On the one hand, this story is a perfect excuse to post some beautiful launch photography on our blog. On the other, it’s a great example of forward-thinking corporate leadership. There’s clearly more value for SpaceX in sharing these photos than in hoarding them.
In some ways it reminds me of the classic “Commoditize your Complements” post by Joel Spolsky.
Every product in the marketplace has substitutes and complements. A substitute is another product you might buy if the first product is too expensive. Chicken is a substitute for beef. If you’re a chicken farmer and the price of beef goes up, the people will want more chicken, and you will sell more.
A complement is a product that you usually buy together with another product. Gas and cars are complements. Computer hardware is a classic complement of computer operating systems. And babysitters are a complement of dinner at fine restaurants. In a small town, when the local five star restaurant has a two-for-one Valentine’s day special, the local babysitters double their rates. (Actually, the nine-year-olds get roped into early service.)
All else being equal, demand for a product increases when the prices of its complements decrease.
Free space photos aren’t likely to make anyone decide to buy a Falcon Heavy today. Inspiring the next generation of spacefarers and helping associate SpaceX with that inspiration might have a value tomorrow. Certainly it has value beyond the minimal cost associated with opening these photos to the world.
I think it’s a smart move.