When former First Lady Melania Trump unveiled her newest NFT this week, she also found herself in potentially dangerous waters with NASA on the unauthorized use of its images that violate the federal agency’s strict image use policy, according to an initial report by Gizmodo.
Her new NFT, entitled “Man on the Moon,” dropped on Wednesday, showcasing NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin in the iconic 1969 photograph during the historic Apollo 11 lunar landing on July 20. The limited-edition NFT costs $75 and includes an embedded audio file that unlocks upon purchase.
— MELANIA TRUMP (@MELANIATRUMP) July 20, 2023
However, pursuant to NASA’s image policies, using the agency’s images in association with NFT projects is expressly forbidden.
“NASA does not wish for its images to be used in connection with NFTs,” the agency’s policy states in part. The policy further notes that NASA is not currently greenlighting or approving any merchandising endeavors linked to NFTs.
Those who want to use NASA’s intellectual property assets, including images, emblems, or other branded identifiers, must go through an extremely rigorous approval process governed by “strict laws and regulations.” While it’s unknown whether Mrs. Trump and the USA Memorabilia NFT platform, which she utilized for “Man on the Moon’s” release, even made an official image request, this policy violation does present some interesting legal questions.
Generally, NASA’s images are not subject to copyright protection, as they are in the public domain for solely educational (academic) or informational purposes.
While NASA has made it very clear in its Regulations for Merchandising Requests and Media Usage Guidelines that its intellectual property assets should stay far away from NFTs, it does beg the question of what NASA will actually do here to enforce its stance.
Given NASA’s imagery is part of the public domain and thus not warranting copyright protection, it’s likely that the federal agency won’t pursue legal action, aside from sending cease-and-desist letters, and instead, look for alternative ways to address the violation that encourages free conversation and an agreeable solution. For example, when Anicorn Watches released its first NASA-branded NFT in April 2021, NASA didn’t address the digital artwork (as far as we know).
On the flip side, this “violation” by Mrs. Trump could incentivize NASA to depart from its previous approach and instead set a precedent by enforcing its policy and protecting its IP from unauthorized usage, specifically with respect to NFTs. But can the agency maintain its exclusion of NFT projects in its image use policy? Or will public domain control?
At the time of this article’s publication, NASA has not yet commented on “Man on the Moon” or its intentions of enforcing its NFT policy.
“The 1776 Collection”
This isn’t Mrs. Trump’s first time interacting with the NFT space, as last month, she introduced her Solana-based NFT collection titled “The 1776 Collection,” which pays tribute to pivotal moments in American history. It features seven photos of landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore.
This follows her Christmas ornament NFT collection, her POTUS NFT collection, and an auction for an NFT of a painting of her eyes called “Melania’s Vision” paired with an audio message. She even launched her own NFT platform back in December 2021.