Space Money and Space LawOctober 22, 2007 at 2:24 pm | Posted in Space Law | 3 Comments
by P.J. Blount with the blog faculty
Earlier this month Travelex, a foreign currency exchange specialist, unvieled its plans for the first Space Money (here). The Quasi Universal Intergalactic Denomination (QUID) is a form of currency that has been scientifically engineered to be safe for the space environment. According to Travelex traditional forms of payment won’t be suitable for outer space (i.e. sharp edges of coins are dangerous in zero gravity, magnetic strips of credit cards won’t make it through the Earth’s electromagnetic field, and the traveller will be too far away to make chip and pin payments useful). The currency is safe for the space environment because it lacks sharp edges and is made of a space grade plastic. Additionally, it contains a map of the solar system, to use as a visual aid when interacting with aliens while paying your tab at the Restaraunt at the End of the Universe.
This new form of intergalactic payment comes complete with a set of interesting legal questions:
The first question is whether issuing the currency counts as a space activity under the Outer Space Treaty. If so then “authorization and continuing supervision” is required. Furthermore, if it is a “national activity” then international liability could result for the country who is supervising Travelex. But what country gets the chore of watching over Travelex? Travelex’s headquarters are in London, but they have subsidiaries all over the world. Would the supervising country change with the place of currency conversion, or with the type of currency converted (the QUID will be available to be purchased with any of the 176 currencies used worldwide). This may seem moot at the moment because Travelex has only taken terrestrial actions so far. However, at least one report claims that Travelex has submitted a request “to open the first bureau de change on the moon.” This would most certainly be considered a space activity. The article however does not say to whom that request was submitted, though.
Another question arises under the Liability Convention. Article XII states that, unless otherwise agreed, compensation shall be made in the form of currency of the claiment State. Could the States agree to compensation in the form of the QUID. Presumably so, as there is nothing in the treaty that requires the compensation to be in any particular form if the states choose an alternative form of compensation.
Next, there is a question of whether this is even a form of currency. It has been created by a private company. Travelex has stated that they intend to work with the Bank of England to get it registered as an official currency, but until that time what is the law governing the QUID? The company has built in serial numbers that allow it to be tracked and to prevent counterfitting, but I question whether anything more than standard IP laws protect the company’s product. It could be likened to commercial paper, but there this reasoning might fail as it is most certainly not paper.
Finally, the QUID seems to assume that an Earth-like array of businesses will emerge in space (picture Daytona Beach on the moon – complete with airbrushed T-Shirts). The distinct possibility is that all of these businesses will be governed by different laws as they may originate in different countries. Assuming that such a business model does emerge in space, then a standard currency would almost be a necessity, which is what Travelex is recognizing with its innovation. The QUID can only be one unifying factor. An Earth-like business district in space would be subject to a multiplicity of transnational laws. This could be a costly venture for businessesl (imagine if every shop on your main street was in a different jurisdiction and legal regime). The question that arises is whether the QUID is the precursor of an emerging lex mercatoria for space. Commercial actors in space might end up adopting codes of conduct for dealing with each other that are outside the scope of national or international laws. In fact, they may have to in order to make space tourism and exploration a profitable venture. The QUID, can be seen as representative of this, in that it is a private enterprise designed to allow businesses in space to interact with customers. While there is evidence of some interaction with state agencies, at the moment it seems that this is a commercial enterprise that will only work if other commercial enterprises recognize it as authoritative.
image source: Travelex press release.