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In Defense of Advertising in Space

In Defense of Advertising in Space

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Published by jhhuebert5297
Giant billboards in space? Some people have proposed it. In this article, J. H. Huebert and Walter Block defend it.

Originally published in the 49th Colloquium on the Law of Outer Space. Also featured in an article in Advertising Age.
Giant billboards in space? Some people have proposed it. In this article, J. H. Huebert and Walter Block defend it.

Originally published in the 49th Colloquium on the Law of Outer Space. Also featured in an article in Advertising Age.

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Published by: jhhuebert5297 on Jun 04, 2009
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04/09/2011

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 1
IN DEFENSE OF ADVERTISING IN SPACEJ. H. Huebert, J.D.
Columbus, Ohio USA jhuebert@alumni.uchicago.edu
 Walter Block, Ph.D.
Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics
 
Loyola University New OrleansNew Orleans, Louisiana USA
 
walterblock@cba.loyno.edu
ABSTRACT
The prospect of orbiting “spacebillboards” visible from Earth has disgustedmany, and prompted a law against them inthe United States along with plans to banthem by international agreement. We,however, disagree with the conventionalview, and find legal prohibition of suchsigns unjustified. This paper examinesproposals to put billboards in space,considers the laws affecting such billboards,refutes the aesthetic and astronomicalobjections to space billboards, and finallyconcludes that restrictions on spacebillboards are not justified. Instead, spacebillboards should be permitted out of respectfor private property and free-speech rights.
I. BILLBOARDS IN SPACE
Advertising in space is not new, orparticularly controversial in itself. PizzaHut, for example, paid to place its logo onthe side of an unmanned Proton rocket in2000
1
– and Columbia Pictures advertisedthe famous Arnold Schwarzenegger flop,
The Last Action Hero
, on the side of a rocketcarrying the first private commercial spacemission.
2
Such publicity stunts have metwith little, if any, negative reaction because,after all, they involve ordinary spacevehicles people might not otherwise look at,and the money the sponsors pay presumablygoes to fund further space ventures.
3
 Hereafter, when this paper refers to“space advertising” it has in mind somethingmore novel and provocative than thoserelatively mundane efforts: space billboards.For more than a decade, technology hasexisted that could put billboards in space.Not merely billboards for the manyanticipated space tourists of the near futureto see as they pass by,
4
but actual signs inlow orbit that would be visible from theEarth’s surface.The first and, to our knowledge, onlyserious proposal to place billboards in orbitaround the Earth came from MichaelLawson, chief executive officer of SpaceMarketing Concepts, Inc., in April 1993.
5
 He proposed “environmental billboards” thatwould carry – in addition to a marketingmessage – scientific instruments such as“ozone measuring devices.”
6
 According to a report by theInternational Astronomical Union, the SpaceMarketing billboards would have been aboutone square kilometer in dimension andwould have been comparable to a full moonin their size and brightness in the sky.
7
 Other reports, however, have suggested thatspace billboards might appear half the sizeof the moon, perhaps one tenth as bright,and only visible during certain hours, arounddusk and dawn.
8
 
 
 2Lawson’s grandest and most specificproposal involved space billboardspromoting, or visible during, the 1996Olympic Games in Atlanta.
9
The City of Atlanta’s marketing director even proposedadvertising the city itself on a spacebillboard to then-Mayor Maynard Jackson.He rejected the idea, deeming spacebillboards “environmental pollution” andnoting that – proud as he presumably was of his city – he did not want to see a spacebillboard promoting it or anything else in thesky.
10
 Lawson’s scheme failed for lack of funding – i.e., no one wanted to pay what itwould have cost to advertise on one of hisproposed billboards.
11
Nonetheless, hisplans prompted the United States Congressto ban “obtrusive space advertising” andestablish a policy of encouraging othercountries to do the same, as discussed indetail in the next section. As a result, nonew space-billboard schemes appearimminent, at least in America.Russian spacecraft designer AlexanderLavrynov, however, purports to haveinvented a method by which multiplesatellites employing sunlight reflectors couldcreate advertising images in the sky visiblefrom Earth.
12
His plan’s technological andeconomic feasibility remain unknown, butRussia has been at the forefront of otherspace advertising efforts,
13
and also notablylaunched a failed space mirror intended tolight up the night sky in 1999.
14
 
II. THE LAW OF SPACEADVERTISINGA. The United States
As noted above, entrepreneurial effortsto launch space billboards prompted theUnited States Congress to essentially ban“obtrusive space advertising,” defined as“advertising in outer space that is capable of being recognized by a human being on thesurface of the Earth without the aid of atelescope or other technological device.”
15
 The statute,
16
added October 30, 2000,provides:Notwithstanding the provisions of this chapter [49 U.S.C. §§ 70101 etseq.] or any other provision of law,the Secretary [of Transportation]may not, for the launch of a payloadcontaining any material to be usedfor the purposes of obtrusive spaceadvertising--(1) issue or transfer a license underthis chapter; or(2) waive the license requirements of this chapter.The statute further prohibits anyonealready holding a license from launchingsuch a payload,
17
and exempts“nonobtrusive commercial spaceadvertising, including advertising on (1)commercial space transportation vehicles;(2) space infrastructure payloads; (3) spacelaunch facilities; and (4) launch supportfacilities.”
18
 Finally, when it passed the above statute,the U.S. Congress also made requests of theU.S. President:
19
 (1) The President is requested tonegotiate with foreign launchingnations for the purpose of reachingone or more agreements that prohibitthe use of outer space for obtrusivespace advertising purposes.(2) It is the sense of the Congressthat the President should take suchaction as is appropriate and feasibleto enforce the terms of anyagreement to prohibit the use of 
 
 3outer space for obtrusive spaceadvertising purposes.In May 2005, the Federal AviationAdministration proposed new regulationsenforcing this statute – essentially seeking toadd to the Code of Federal Regulations thesame language already in the statue,directing the FAA to review payloads “todetermine if the launch of [a] payload wouldresult in obtrusive space advertising.”
20
 Although the proposed regulations wouldhave added nothing substantive to thealready-existing law, they drew strongcomments pro and con from the public.
21
 Ultimately, the FAA did not adopt theproposed regulations because it concludedthat “the statutory prohibitions are sufficientto prevent the launch of a payloadcontaining obtrusive space advertising.”
22
 To our knowledge, the United States sofar has not had an occasion to enforce itsprohibition on obtrusive space advertising.
B. The Rest of the World
The international agreements on spaceadvertising that the United States Congressexhorted the President to enter have yet tomaterialize. Other major spacefaringnations, notably including Russia, have notenacted similar bans.Little evidence exists that aninternational ban is a high priority. SergeiNegoda of the United Nations Office forOuter Space Affairs told N
EWSWEEK
in2005 that the issue was “not on the agenda”and likely would not be “unless all memberstates . . . reach a consensus.” He added thatthe present push for the commercializationof space (also spearheaded by Americans)made such an agenda item unlikely.
23
 To our knowledge, no one has attemptedto argue specifically that existinginternational law bans space advertising.Some, however, have of course maintainedthat the 1967 Outer Space Treaty – theforemost document in international spacelaw – bans private property or restrictscommercial activity in outer space generally.Such views have been widely rejected,however, and seem unlikely to find muchsupport in light of the ever-increasing drivefor private entrepreneurial activity inspace.
24
Some might also argue that theOuter Space Treaty bars advertising becauseit requires that outer space be used “for thebenefit of all mankind.” As we will seebelow, however, benefits are subjective, andwhat is a benefit to one person almostcertainly will not be viewed as a benefit byanother – and conflicts between the two canonly be resolved by the arbitrary exercise of violence in the absence of private propertyrights.
III. AESTHETIC ANDASTRONOMICAL OBJECTIONS TOSPACE ADVERTISING
The primary objections to advertisinghave been in two categories: aesthetic andastronomical. That is, people have claimedthat space advertising should be restricted orbanned because of the advertising’ssupposed aesthetic offensiveness, or becausethis mode of communication would restrictthe supposedly more important activities of astronomers.In this section, we consider thesearguments and offer some ideas on whythese objections fail to justify a ban on spaceadvertising. In the next section, we willoffer our view that private property rightsare the only means of resolving the disputesregarding the appropriateness of spaceadvertising.
A. Aesthetic Concerns
Perhaps the most widespread objectionto space advertising is aesthetic.

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