PROPERTY RIGHTS ON MOON AND OTHER CELESTIAL BODIES

AUTHORS:

Gunjan Hariramani. MNLU, Mumbai

Jahnvi Gupta, DNLU, Jabalpur

EDITOR: Akansha Singh, RMLNLU, Lucknow



INTRODUCTION

Isn’t it funny when the great actor Shah Rukh Khan confirmed that he owned several acres of land on the moon? But this is true, one of his fans in Australia used to buy land pieces for him every year as his birthday gift and she used to do her business with the Lunar Republic Society and in return, the Lunar Republic society used to give Shah Rukh Khan the certificates.[1] So how is this possible, can I buy property on the moon? The answer is that, moon is like an ocean, i.e. every nation in the world can use it but cannot own it. When the discussions on the moon began in the 1950s, the only problem was national sovereignty. There was a race between the Soviet Union and the United States as both of them wanted to reach the moon first and claim the rights and the real worry was, what would happen if they came second? So, there was a fear that this competition might trigger some hostile situations between the countries and therefore a treaty was formed to maintain peace between the countries. Outer Space Treaty, 1967 was introduced and there were 109 countries who are signatories to the treaty and another 23 have signed it but have not ratified it.[2] Talks on preserving outer space for peaceful purposes began in the late 1950s at the United Nations. The United States and its Western allies submitted proposals and drafts in 1957 on reserving space exclusively for "peaceful and scientific purposes by nations," but the Soviet Union rejected these efforts because it was preparing to launch the world's first satellite and test Russia’s first intercontinental ballistic missile. Then both the countries submitted different drafts to the UN General Assembly in June 1966 and finally a mutually agreed treaty was formed over the next six months and it got its approval in December 1966.[3] If we look back in the 1980s, there was a very famous company named, Lunar Embassy and its owner, Dennis Hope claimed that he had the right to sell land on the moon because the Article II of the treaty says, “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” He found a loophole in the treaty because the treaty clearly declares that no country can assert sovereignty over the moon, but it fails to say clearly that individuals or private organizations can’t. He used this loophole and made business.[4] People love to become powerful personalities and the way to get power is through acquiring land and money. Since the 15th century, when Vasco Da Gama came to India, people were fighting for acquiring territories and are still fighting. The passion for exploration and desire to acquire property is in our blood. We humans use all the resources available around us for gaining maximum utility and space for that matter is a resource for us and we humans will think and make most of it.


CLAIMS ON EXTRATERRESTRIAL REAL ESTATE

"I've always looked at myself as a pioneer. I've always thought differently; I think outside the box, actually, now I'm thinking outside the planet."[5]

- Dennis Hope

The real Space law negotiation was made between the USA and USSR, regarding the governance of space activities and property ownership issues by sanctioning the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space Including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies in 1967. The treaty is also known as the Outer Space Treaty or OST. [6]

The makers of the Outer Space Treaty exercised sovereignty and as a result, they rejected the idea of Res Nullius, which means Nobody’s property or unclaimed property. The basic idea of the drafters was to keep Outer space open and accessible to the resources available for all individuals, companies, communities, and nations.[7] But this accessibility right is limited up to only the research and exploration part and strictly not meant for claiming any ownership Rights.[8] Therefore, the fundamental principles regulating the treaties are i) Non- National acquirement of the property. ii) Acceptance of the concept of Res Communis, which means easily accessible for the common population.[9]

The most significant treaties are i) Outer Space Treaty an ii) Moon treaty. The MOST outline the functioning of the International Space Laws and provides access methods and, rights and claims procedures.[10] On the other side, the Moon treaty prescribes that the property outside the planet earth is under Res Communis (accessible for the common mankind). The Moon treaty not only applies to the property on the Moon but also on other numerous celestial bodies.[11] However, the Moon Treaty failed massively, as the signatories were mere 14 countries, excluding the USA and USSR which did not ratify the treaty, and none of them was the space-faring nation. [12]

The terrestrial property in the geosynchronous orbit is the only area that could be claimed nationally.[13] As read above, the MOST forbids nations/corporations to claim ownership rights on the Moon and other celestial bodies, though there’s no intimation about private ownership rights over the extraterrestrial bodies. So, Dennis Hope, a U.S. national claimed his right to USA, USSR, and UN over a piece of land on Moon, later on when no response was received by him, he himself declared his ownership and started a Company named – Lunar Embassy[14], and continued the trade of exchange of real estate over the Moon. This act of Hope baffled everybody as he did the trade deal with approximately 6 million people, including a good number of renowned people, and now there’s a dispute over ownership rights and legality of such sale on the sold properties. [15]

As correctly opined that due to impossibility to make permanent settlement on the Moon or any other celestial body as of now, even after the piece of land is owned by some private individual, the particular part of the land on the body cannot be owned by any person.[16]

Hope was later facilitated by his appointment as Co-chairman of the Republican Congressional Business Advisory Council. He was also awarded the National Leadership Award, though this facilitation wasn’t officially recognized by the USA.[17] After the Hope case, private claims were piled up as it was open to discussion and interpretation due to huge loopholes in the Treaty.

There are four interpretations to the Private claims-

  1. Lenient Method – National appropriation/claim is kept separately from private ownership claims. [18]

  2. Individual Sovereignty – Claims under private ownership of rights on the property over any celestial body can be withstood if the requirement of state is fulfilled by the particular entity. For instance, if an entity is following the ethics, like corporate social responsibility, environment-friendly behaviour, then the entity can claim for private ownership of Rights. [19]

  3. Ban – Ban on private ownership as an extension of the definition of Nation under the Outer Space Treaty. [20]

  4. International sovereignty – Private ownership may occur under International sovereignty as it’s nowhere mentioned that it cannot be included in international sovereignty, but there’s definitely a mention regarding National appropriation but not about international sovereignty.[21]

CONCLUSION

Making the best possible and economic use of the moon and other celestial bodies are in our human blood and we humans can go to any lengths to maximize the use of any resource for our satisfaction and greed. Not only is it in our human blood, but it is also economically and financially beneficial for us to explore and use lands beyond Earth. Exploration requires technology, men, wealth, and investment and this could only mean wealth for that nation or company. So, our answer to the question, if we can buy land on the moon or not, is NO, as the International treaty necessarily mentions that all forms of outer space exploration would be for the welfare of all humankind. It also explicitly states that no individual or private company can purchase a piece of lunar land and call it his or her own for-profit earning reasons.

[1] SRK owns land on the moon!, Hindustan Times, (Nov 03, 2009, 6:00 P.M.), https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/srk-owns-land-on-the-moon/story-KcN8sN1tl231lzkkg8G7kL.html. [2] YASH TRIPATHI, Can You Buy Land On Moon? Details On Legalities And Possibilities Here, Republic world,(June 17, 2020), https://www.republicworld.com/technology-news/other-tech-news/can-you-buy-land-on-moon-is-it-possible-is-it-legal-details-here.html. [3] DARYL KIMBALL, The Outer Space Treaty at a Glance, Factsheet, Arms Control Association, (Aug, 2017, 6:45 P.M.), https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/outerspace. [4] Prakhar Maheshwari and Neeraj Gurnani, Property rights in outer space, Lawctopus, (Jan 16, 2015), https://www.lawctopus.com/academike/property-rights-in-outer-space/. [5]Sarah Firsheln, 9 Quotes From the Man Who Sells Real Estate On the Moon, CURBED, (July 16, 2020, 12.10 A.M.), https://www.curbed.com/2013/3/11/10265472/11-quotes-from-the-man-who-sells-real-estate-on-the-moon. [6] Rand Simberg, Property Rights in Space, The New Atlantis, (July 16, 2020, 1:16 A.M.) https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/property-rights-in-space. [7] Neerja Gurnani & Prakhar Maheshwari, Property rights in Outer Space, Lawctopus, (July 16, 2020, 1:46 A.M.), https://www.lawctopus.com/academike/property-rights-in-outer-space/ [8] Ibid. [9] Ibid. [10] Nahal Toosi, Property rights in space could become a big deal, and the 50-year-old treaty that governs them is under strain, The Agenda, (July 16, 2020, 2:36 A.M.) https://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2019/06/13/space-travel-moon-resources-000899/ [11] Ibid. [12] Supra Note 2. [13] Extraterrestrial Property and Space Law: Frequently Asked Questions, Moon Estates, (July 16, 2020, 3:16 A.M.),https://www.moonestates.com/about-us/space-law/#:~:text=The%20Outer%20Space%20Treaty%20of%201967%20explicitly%20forbids%20any%20government,the%20Moon%20or%20a%20planet.&text=Well%20it%20means%20that%20governments,to%20these%20bodies%20at%20all. [14] Supra Note 3. [15] Louis de Gouyon Matignon, THE LAWFULNESS OF EXTRATERRESTRIAL REAL ESTATE, SPACE LEGAL ISSUES, (JULY 16, 2020, 4:07 A.M.) https://www.spacelegalissues.com/the-lawfulness-of-extraterrestrial-real-estate/. [16] Ibid. [17] Supra Note 3. [18] Ibid. [19] Supra Note 6. [20] Supra Note 3. [21] Rachel Lopez, Who owns the moon, and why are so many lunatics trying to sell you a piece of it? Staking a claim to the moon, Hindustan Times, (July 16, 202, 5. 13 A.M.) https://www.hindustantimes.com/science/staking-a-claim-to-the-moon/story-kEUtOxJEbbJjmwynJ26wNP.html

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