The discovery of new alien technologies alludes to the problem of intellectual property, if the people were able to make it back to earth. This problem was never truly made explicit within the movie, but could be seen as a problem in the future if humans ever do discover alien technology. The problem that would arise would be: “who has the rights to use the new technology that was discovered?” The company that discovered the technology and funded the expedition should be the ones to own the rights to the alien technology legally with our current system and can be argued to have the ethical claim to the technology with regards to the movie.
Trade secrets would allow the company to hold onto the technology, and no one could possibly know that they had alien technology. This idea works well for research and would be helpful to the company in the first year while doing research, but when it came time to develop their own products, they would need to create patents to protect their new inventions. The benefit to having the trade secrets would be that no government could know that they were able to obtain alien technology since it would have never been disclosed to the public. Legally this is perfectly fine as long as they do not wish to profit off anything that they create, but that’s not how most successful companies work.
The legal trouble is considering whether the company has a right to patent all the alien technology that they find, as to manufacture new products and sell them to the public. The groups that could argue against this would be the scientists contracted to work with the Weyland Corporation and the government or governments looking to make the information part of the public domain.
The contracted scientists would have no rights to produce information about the technology they discovered or other findings about the alien civilization. It would be assumed that they would have to sign a contract that would determine the details of the trip. In our society, there is currently one major privately owned corporation working in the field of space travel and that company is SpaceX. Part of the standard contract that all clients working with SpaceX must sign when agreeing to use SpaceX products includes:
(b) All work product, deliverables, information, data, discoveries, concepts, ideas, inventions (whether or not patentable), developments, designs, know-how, trade secrets, improvements, works of authorship, reports, documents, computer programs, source and object code, mask works and any other materials solely or jointly conceived, written, created, prepared, made, reduced to practice, or learned by SELLER in the course of any work performed for SPACEX under this Contract and all intellectual property rights related to and contained therein shall be the sole property of SPACEX and shall be used by SELLER solely in work for SPACEX.1
This would be part of standard contract that the Weyland Corporation would also use at the time. This would mean the scientists would only be able to use the information that they discovered while they continued working for the Weyland Corporation. Legally, the scientists would have no rights to the information.
To discuss whether the government would have any rights to the technology that was discovered it would be helpful to look at international laws regarding extraterrestrial bodies and the US Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act states that it is illegal “‘to appropriate, excavate, injure, or destroy any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity,’” situated on federal land without the permission of the federal government”. 2 In the movie the site that they reach is thousands of years old, so even if the technology is more advanced than ours every object there could be considered and object of antiquity, thus the federal government would have all rights to any objects that would be found in that cite. The only problem with this is that it has to be on federal land. Article II of the moon agreement states that no nation can claim rights to a celestial body. “Hence, the possibility of claiming sovereignty over the moon or celestial bodies by effective occupation has been ruled out.” No nation can claim rights to land. The US has no right to call the planet theirs because it was a ship from the US. However, this says nothing about private companies” 3. This also gives the power right back to the company because there is no current law or treaty in place that would prevent a private company from claiming a planet or a spot on a planet. This would mean that the company has the best claim to all of the alien technology legally but ethically it the conclusion should remain the same.
Rule Utilitarianism would be an excellent way to show that the company should have rights to the alien technology that they found. The basic moral rule would be: If you fund an expedition and find a new alien technology you should have exclusive rights to that technology. Allowing all companies and individuals to have rights to the knowledge behind the technology would allow more ideas to develop faster and there would be more inventions. This would help every person in the world, but would be a negative to the world. However, if a company will have no gains financially from discovering alien technology they would have no reason to spend a lot of money to find it in the first place. If no one found any new technology, no one would benefit from that and this would be a bigger negative than just a slower process to new technology. This would mean that the rule would cause a net benefit to society and be an ethically correct decision to allow the company to have full rights to the technology.
Terms of service. Retrieved September 18, 2017, from SpaceX, SpaceX standard terms and conditions, http://www.spacex.com/sites/spacex/files/spacex_standard_terms_and_conditions.pdf ↩
Cronin, K. (2014). A bone to pick: The paleontological resources preservation act and its effect on commercial paleontology. Albany Government Law Review, 7(1), 267. ↩
Williams, S. (1987). The Law of Outer Space and Natural Resources. The International and Comparative Law Quarterly,36(1), 142-151. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/760465 ↩