LOS ANGELES — Former lunar astronaut Buzz Aldrin is not over the moon about the use of his photo on a series of trading cards.
The 80-year-old Aldrin sued Topps Inc. this week in federal court in Los Angeles, saying the company had unfairly profited from his historic achievement when they used an iconic photograph of Aldrin standing on the moon in a series of "American Heroes" trading cards.
In documents filed with the court, attorneys representing Aldrin noted that the astronaut has received settlement payments amounting to more than $760,000 over the years for infringements due to unauthorized commercial use of Aldrin's image.
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Topps attorney Michael Kahn told the Los Angeles Times that the firm has a First Amendment right to include a factual description of the Apollo 11 mission and it included an image of Aldrin in his lunar suit because he is "an American hero."
Aldrin's lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and an order prohibiting Topps from marketing the cards.
CollectSpace founder Robert Pearlman, an expert on space-related collectibles, noted that Aldrin is just one of several astronauts who have contested the commercial use of their images. For example, Aldrin's commander on the Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong, brought legal proceedings against Hallmark for the use of his name and voice in a holiday ornament. That case was settled out of court for an unspecified amount.
Similar lawsuits have been brought by shuttle astronaut Bruce McCandless as well as Apollo 12's Pete Conrad and Apollo 15's Jim Irwin and their families, Pearlman said.
"NASA's position is that while the photographs taken on the moon, in space, and elsewhere during the astronauts' careers with the space agency are public domain — meaning no copyright is asserted — if the images are used for commercial purposes, permission should first be sought from the person(s) depicted," Pearlman told msnbc.com in an e-mail.
Pearlman said he appreciated Aldrin's view, but worried that such legal disputes "could dissuade Topps and other trading card companies from producing astronaut- and space-themed products, which would be unfortunate."
"Dating back to the 1960s, space trading cards have been a great way to engage kids in learning about space history," Pearlman said.
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