It appears that if you publish a documentary that challenges the standard model of cosmology, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory will hunt you down and file copyright claims against you if you dare to use their publicly funded images.
The Electric Comet documentary on YouTube now has a take-down notice displayed in its place.
This is highly unusual for a publicly funded institution. Typically such institutions issue their works under public domain, since the public paid for the research in the first place.
The NOAO’s copyright policy reads as follows:
Electronic products such as images and captions created and/or prepared by NOAO are copyrighted in content, presentation, and intellectual origin. These electronically available materials are considered intellectual property and are intended for use for educational, academic, and research purposes and are not intended for commercial use. Electronic versions of images are protected by copyright as intellectual property unless noted otherwise.
Contrast that policy with NASA’s policy on copyright:
NASA still images; audio files; video; and computer files used in the rendition of 3-dimensional models, such as texture maps and polygon data in any format, generally are not copyrighted. You may use NASA imagery, video, audio, and data files used for the rendition of 3-dimensional models for educational or informational purposes, including photo collections, textbooks, public exhibits, computer graphical simulations and Internet Web pages.
I’m not even sure if the NOAO can legally claim to have copyright over any of those images.
A United States government work is prepared by an officer or employee of the United States government as part of that person’s official duties.
It is not subject to copyright in the United States and there are no copyright restrictions on reproduction, derivative works, distribution, performance, or display of the work.
As far as I’m aware, public institutions are not allowed to copyright any of their works. If the NOAO wants to play this game, they should be fully privatized. It seems outrageous to me that a public institution is going to take tax money for the production of its works and then prohibit the public from using them.
I’ve sent a letter to the NOAO requesting more information about the take-down. I’m awaiting to hear word back from them. I’ll update this post when I do.