Copyright Protection for Data Obtained by Remote Sensing: How the Data Enhancement Industry Will Ensure Access for Developing Countries

West, J. Richard | January 1, 1990

The use of remote sensing of the earth by satellite has grown tremendously since the United States launched the first such satellite, Landsat 1, in 1972. In 1984, the Land Remote Sensing Commercialization Act began the gradual transfer of the United States Landsat program to the private sector. The Earth Observation Satellite Company (EOSAT) is the private operator licensed pursuant to the Act, and is preparing to launch the first privately-operated remote sensing satellite, Landsat 6, in 1991. The Commercialization Act requires operators to make raw data available to all users on a nondiscriminatory basis, but it does not preclude the copyrighting of processed satellite information. Because the United States recently joined the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, any copyright protection would function on an international basis. Many commentators have suggested that intellectual property rights in remote sensing data will sharply reduce the availability of such data to less-affluent users.