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How to legally use NASA images in your YouTube, blogs and social media

Posted by Steve Vondran | Apr 17, 2019 | 0 Comments

Attorney Steve® Copyright Essentials – Using NASA images,  videos and audio in your YouTube channel and blogs.

Attribution:  Photo of the Apollo 14 moon landing courtesy of NASA. ASA ID: 7120040.  Date Created: 1971-02-05.


This blog discusses, generally, how NASA images, videos, and audio clips can be used in your blogs, youtube channels and in other social media.  For a quicklook, here is the NASA media search site.  Make sure to read the usage policy BEFORE making any use.  NASA GALLERY

NASA is a federal agency

Generally, federal government works “for the people” and is funded by the people.  As such, they are not allowed to own or hold copyright protection and go around suing everyone for use of images created by the government or its employees.  Curiously, state and local governments are allowed to own copyrights but that is the subject for another day.

According to Wikipedia:

“Since its creation in 1958, NASA has been taking pictures of the Earth, the Moon, the planets, and other astronomical objects inside and outside our Solar System. Under United States copyright law, works created by the U.S. federal government or its agencies cannot be copyrighted. (This does not apply to works created by state or local governments.) Therefore, the NASA pictures are legally in the public domain. Photographs and other NASA images should include the NASA image number if you have it, for easy reference. When accessing space photographs, be sure that you know the source. Pictures not produced by NASA employees may have different usage restrictions.”

Videos, Images, Photos, Film and Audio (even live streaming) are in the “public domain”

According to this website, the NASA image use policy can be succinctly stated as follows:

“You may use NASA imagery, video and audio material if it is for educational or informational purposes, including photo collections, textbooks, public exhibits and Internet Web pages. This general permission does not include the NASA insignia logo (the blue “meatball” insignia), the NASA logotype (the red “worm” logo) and the NASA seal. These images may not be used by persons who are not NASA employees. If the NASA material is to be used for commercial purposes, especially including advertisements, it must not explicitly or implicitly convey NASA's endorsement of commercial goods or services. If a NASA image includes an identifiable person, using the image for commercial purposes may infringe that person's right of privacy or publicity, and permission should be obtained from the person.”

Make sure to note the limitations on this page.

NASA requires “attribution” and no implied endorsements

If you are using a STRICTLY NASA photo, film, video, audio or image file, then you should provide attribution to NASA.  This is strictly stated to be their policy and you do not want trouble with the government.

However, more care needs to be taken to make sure you are using a NASA photo (and not something a photographer or videographer has allowed NASA to use).  In these cases, you may be restricted on the types of use and you could run into photo infringement legal trouble if not following the license, or making sure you are obtaining the proper commercial rights to use the digital content in question.  For example, it says on the JPL website:

“Some image and video materials on JPL public web sites are owned by organizations other than JPL or NASA. These owners have agreed to make their images and video available for journalistic, educational and personal uses, but restrictions are placed on commercial uses. To obtain permission for commercial use, contact the copyright owner listed in each image caption. Ownership of images and video by parties other than JPL and NASA is noted in the caption material with each image.”

Use of logos, emblems and seals are regulated by Federal Statute.

While the federal government (i.e. NASA) may not own the copyrights to their image, photo, video and audio files, they do have certain limitations on the use of their logo (which means you need to be careful if using a NASA video which contains their logo, for example.  What do you do?  Do you crop out the logo so the final video on your website, blog, or YouTube channel does not misuse the seal or logotype?  This is an important question especially since there is a law that basically makes it a crime to use the logo or emblem of NASA improperly.

According to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (image policy) website (“JPL”):

“Prior written approval must be obtained to use the NASA insignia logo (the blue “meatball” insignia), the NASA logotype (the red “worm” logo) and the NASA seal. These images may not be used by persons who are not NASA employees or on products (including Web pages) that are not NASA sponsored. In addition, no image may be used to explicitly or implicitly suggest endorsement by NASA, JPL or Caltech of commercial goods or services. Requests to use NASA logos may be directed to Bert Ulrich, Public Services Division, NASA Headquarters, Code POS, Washington, DC 20546, telephone (202) 358-1713, fax (202) 358-4331, email [email protected]

14 C.F.R. 1121 limitations

This is the federal code section (Code of Federal Regulations) that governs the use of NASA emblems, logos, and sea.

  • 1221.109 Use of the NASA Seal.

(a) The Associate Deputy Administrator shall be responsible for custody of the NASA Impression Seal and custody of NASA replica (plaques) seals. The NASA Seal is restricted to the following:

(1) NASA award certificates and medals.

(2) NASA awards for career service.

(3) Security credentials and employee identification cards.

(4) NASA Administrator's documents; the Seal may be used on documents such as interagency or intergovernmental agreements and special reports to the President and Congress, and on other documents, at the discretion of the NASA Administrator.

(5) Plaques; the design of the NASA Seal may be incorporated in plaques for display in Agency auditoriums, presentation rooms, lobbies, offices of senior officials, and on the fronts of buildings occupied by NASA. A separate NASA seal in the form of a 15-inch, round, bronze-colored plaque on a walnut-colored wood base is also available, but prohibited for use in the above representational manner. It is restricted to use only as a presentation item by the Administrator and the Deputy Administrator.

(6) The NASA Flag and the NASA Administrator's, Deputy Administrator's, and Associate Deputy Administrator's Flags, which incorporate the design of the Seal.

(7) NASA prestige publications which represent the achievements or missions of NASA as a whole.

(8) Publications (or documents) involving participation by another Government agency for which the other Government agency has authorized the use of its seal.

(b) Use of the NASA Seal for any purpose other than as prescribed in this section is prohibited, except that the Associate Deputy Administrator may authorize, on a case-by-case basis, the use of the NASA Seal for purposes other than those prescribed when the Associate Deputy Administrator deems such use to be appropriate.

Right of Publicity and Privacy Concerns in all uses

In all cases of using photos and images online (including videos and audio) your company needs to think about “Publicity Rights” before using any digital content.  Under California right of publicity law for example, a person's name, image and likeness is protected (whether they are famous or not).  So, using images, audio, video and other content with identifiable elements of another person could lead to an unwanted ROP lawsuit.

According to the JPL website noted above:

“If an image includes an identifiable person, using the image for commercial purposes may infringe that person's right of privacy or publicity, and permission should be obtained from the person. NASA and JPL generally do not permit likenesses of current employees to appear on commercial products. For more information, consult the NASA and JPL points of contact listed above.”

Fair Use is also permitted as to copyright issues

Even though the above requirements may exist, keep in mind that creators also have “statutory fair use rights” that allow you to use short clips as long as you are commenting on them or criticizing them, making a parody, transforming the work into something new, etc.  Make sure to get a fair use opinion leader before relying on this rather tricky area of the law.

Attorney Steve® Top YouTube Fair Use Tips

VIDEO:  Click on the image above to watch the video.  Make sure to SUBSCRIBE to our popular legal channel.

Attorney Steve TOP 6 Fair Use Tips:

  1. Try to find strictly NASA photos
  2. Give attribution to the required NASA website (they have over 20 public facing sites)
  3. Use only the amount of audio or video that you actually need to illustrate your point
  4. If there are third parties who own the content (you seem them listed as the © holder, you need to get permission from them to use the content or you may face a photo infringement demand letter
  5. Keep in mind rights of publicity (one of the four “privacy” torts in California). Everyone has a legal right to control how their name, image and likeness is being used for commercial purposes.  You may need to acquire those rights BEFORE using the digital content online or in any other media.
  6. Don't use the seal or logo without permission, especially in commercial context. Get permission as this can be a federal crime and lead to jail time (crazy as that may seem).  Read more about using the FBI symbol on your website.


NASA media usage guidelines – “NASA material is not protected by copyright unless noted. If copyrighted, permission should be obtained from the copyright owner prior to use. If not copyrighted, NASA material may be reproduced and distributed without further permission from NASA.”

NASA video and image library

Earth Observatory images – “Most materials published on the Earth Observatory, including images, are freely available for re-publication or re-use, including commercial purposes, except for where copyright is indicated. In those cases you must obtain the copyright holder's permission; we usually provide links to the organization that holds the copyright. We ask that NASA's Earth Observatory be given credit for its original materials; the only mandatory credit is NASA.” – Public Domain / CCO Images, Clipart online

Attorney Steve® Creative Commons Explained


About the Author

Steve Vondran

Thank you for viewing our blogs, videos and podcasts. As noted, all information on this website is Attorney Advertising. Decisions to hire an attorney should never be based on advertising alone. Any past results discussed herein do not guarantee or predict any future results. All blogs are written by Steve Vondran, Esq. unless otherwise indicated. Our firm handles a wide variety of intellectual property and entertainment law cases from music and video law, Youtube disputes, DMCA litigation, copyright infringement cases involving software licensing disputes (ex. BSA, SIIA, Siemens, Autodesk, Vero, CNC, VB Conversion and others), torrent internet file-sharing (Strike 3 and Malibu Media), California right of publicity, TV Signal Piracy, and many other types of IP, piracy, technology, and social media disputes. Call us at (877) 276-5084. AZ Bar Lic. #025911 CA. Bar Lic. #232337


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