Astronaut Sues Dido, Getty Over Album Cover Image

©1984/NASA Mission Specialist Bruce McCandless II "free flying" to a distance of 320 feet from the space shuttle Challenger, February 12, 1984

A former NASA astronaut has filed suit in federal court in Los Angeles, charging British pop star Dido with unauthorized use of the astronaut’s likeness on an album cover. Also named as defendants were Dido’s agent, her record companies, and Getty Images, which allegedly licensed the image.

Bruce McCandless is shown on the cover of Dido’s “Safe Trip Home” album floating in space above planet earth, several hundred feet away from a space shuttle where a fellow astronaut photographed him. The image (shown here) was shot in 1984, when McCandless was testing a nitrogen-powered jet pack that allows astronauts to venture untethered from space shuttles.

McCandless’s face is not recognizable–he is dwarfed by outer space and planet earth in the image, which was shot from afar. But according to his lawsuit, the Dido album cover identifies him as the astronaut in the picture. And the same image (shown at right) appears on NASA’s web site, identifying McCandless as the subject of the photo.

McCandless says in his claim that the use of the image for commercial purposes without his consent is a violation of his right of privacy and publicity. He is seeking a court order to bar the defendants from continuing to use the image, and unspecified monetary damages.

The defendants have not yet responded formally to the suit.

17 Responses to “Astronaut Sues Dido, Getty Over Album Cover Image”

  1. jon Says:

    I thought NASA pictures were public property? I’ve seen many NASA pics used in all kinds of publications/products & films. I’m guessing that NASA astronauts sign a lot of paperwork when they enter the program that would include a release of some kind regarding documents/images of their NASA missions. When I think of all the products that have Neil Armstrong’s picture on them, I wonder how this astro could win this lawsuit.

  2. A Dubs Says:

    Uh ,Dido is a woman.

    “Also named as defendants were Dido’s agent, his record companies, and Getty Images,”

  3. Amber Sexton Says:

    It’s not the copyright that’s at issue, it’s the third party or model rights. Believe me the atronauts did not sign model releases for commercial use of their images, and they know exactly who they are in every photo. I know someone who does clearances for film, tv shows et all and they always clear the astronauts because they will sue.

  4. Amber Sexton Says:

    Nasa pictures can be used editorially anywhere without astronauts permission. That’s different, but commercial products, they probably do need to license the astronauts likeness. Of course there are many unauthorized uses and the astronauts lawyers probably only approach the deep pocketed ones.

  5. john mcd Says:

    Is this another case of Getty being clever and grabbing something which is available for free and then licensing its use by third parties? Or do they have some agreement with NASA? This could get interesting.

  6. patrick Says:

    My very unlawyerly opinion is that he doesn’t have a case but Dido’s label will probably settle out of court nonetheless.

  7. Amber Sexton Says:

    It’s very possible to clear astronauts likenesses through Getty, so these people were just lazy or not very knowledgable.

  8. bob Says:

    How difficult would it to have PhotoShopped an studio astonaught? Answer: not very.

  9. StMarc Says:

    If he’d sued in Illinois, he’d be home and dry. In California, he’s home and vigorously toweling himself off. Dido et al are estopped from any kind of defense other than that CA law just doesn’t forbid what they did – they’ve not only admitted they knew who it was, THEY TOLD EVERYBODY WHO SEES THE PICTURE WHO IT IS. Putting the astronaut’s name on the album itself was even more monumentally stupid than using it in the first place.

    And, since in my lawyerly-but-not-admitted-in-CA-this-isn’t-legal-advice opinion CA *does* forbid this kind of thing, they’re hosed.

  10. Laura@buy stove Says:

    Hi really enjoyed reading your post.
    Why is it when we see Astronauts working outside the Space Station the background is totally Dark? No Stars?

  11. StMarc Says:

    Laura:

    It’s because stars are very faint light sources compared to the other objects in the picture: the exposure has to be controlled so that they aren’t over-exposed which means the stars don’t show up. Look at pictures people take of backyard parties and things at night – when the sky is visible, you’ll rarely see stars, and for the same reason. Or take your digicam outside tonight and try it for yourself! :)

    Some of the people who don’t believe we landed on the moon several decades ago have used this phenomenon as evidence that the pictures were doctored or taken on a stage of some kind: like most other claims, it turns out that not only are they wrong, but what you see is actually evidence that the pictures *were* taken where they were. Had they been faked, the fakers would have tried to make them look “more real” by putting in stars.

  12. Industry News Round-Up: A Sketchers Lawsuit, An Astronaut, and Jeremy Renner | SYNC Blog Says:

    [...] -Mr. Reinsdorf isn’t the only one in the middle of a legal battle over a photo. A former NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless is suing British pop singer Dido for reportedly using his likeness on the cover of her newest album, entitled Safe Trip Home. Although McCandless is not recognizable in the photo that depicts an astronaut floating over the earth, he claims that the cover photo identifies him and is suing the singer, her record company, and Getty Images, who allegedly licensed the photo. (PDN Pulse) [...]

  13. Michael Rudas Says:

    Actually, if Dido’s record company licensed the image from Getty, doesn’t that mean that she’s off the hook? It’s up to the licensing entity to ensure the proper clearances, not the end user. The whole POINT of licensing is to off-load responsibility for this sort of issue.

  14. StMarc Says:

    Michael:

    That may be the whole point of licensing from the point of view of the end user, but the law doesn’t care. ROP misappropriation is a tort of strict liability under most systems where it exists at all. Everybody who profited from the misappropriation of the astronaut’s ROP is jointly liable to the astronaut. They’ll have to fight amongst themselves as to who should compensate who for that liability: that’s not the astronaut’s problem.

  15. Mike Says:

    American tax payers launched his astronaut ass up into outer space for the thrill and career of a life time at great risk and expense.

    If anyone should get a licensing fee for commercial use of ANY NASA images or personnel (all federal employees and outer space is not a private place), it should be Uncle Sam!

  16. greg Says:

    >>Why is it when we see Astronauts working outside the Space Station the background is totally Dark? No Stars?

    They’re lit by the sun (or reflected sun). So exposure is for sunlight, not night time stars.

    Photos of the moon are the same way, expose the the sunlit moon so you can see detail, no stars. Expose for the stars, the moon is grossly overexposed.

  17. StMarc Says:

    Mike:

    The US Government can’t create copyrighted works. If you don’t like it, contact your Congressperson and have the Copyright Act changed.