Law and 3D Scans

Continuing the discussion from Cultural heritage applications for 3D scans:

I haven’t found any legal codes for the US, but did find this article, which addresses specifically 3D printing. Interestingly, the only photogrammetry-related law I found focuses on aerial photogrammetry rather than capture of objects or structures (here).

1 Like

I have my own personal experience to add to this topic.

Here in Sioux Falls, SD, there are two full-sized bronze casts of Michelangelo’s David & Moses. They were given to both the City of Sioux Falls and Augustana College in the early 1970s by Mr and Mrs Thomas Fawick as a gesture of thanks when he was a struggling inventor here in the early 20th century. Augustana strongly preferred Moses to be placed on it’s campus. David very nearly didn’t come at all, as local religious conservatives rallied against the perceived indecent, homoerotic nude. Eventually Sioux Falls did accept David.

I decided to create models of Moses & David. I know in the case of Moses, over the course of a few hours, I snapped over a thousand or more photos, and nearly as many for David.

I tackled Moses first since I was able to get much more of him than David. I posted screenshots of my progress via Twitter and Google+ and finally uploaded my finished, crude first try of Moses to Thingiverse.

Shortly after that, a representative from Augustana contacted me and requested that I take Moses down immediately and to contact anyone else with a downloaded copy of my model and inform them that they should delete it. I was surprised and disappointed. I asked for the reason. She informed me that Augustana’s legal department considered Moses a copyrighted work.

I tried to work with her and the elusive legal department that would never directly contact me, sending them relevant links noting that courts had already set a precedent that any art in the Public Domain that was precisely copied or replicated could not be copyrighted again, not unless the copy was substantially altered to differentiate it from the original.

Digital Moses

I contacted an attorney for the City of Sioux Falls and she mostly felt that photography of Moses and David was perfectly fine, but if anyone attempted to sell their photographs or transform them into models, that a copyright or intellectual property of some sort was being violated. All this after I sent the links to the precedent already stated in another court case.

Both bronzes are in public view. David stands outside on city land in Fawick Park downtown while Moses stands outdoors on the campus of Augustana College.

Maybe I went about it all wrong, but I also reminded all the parties involved that for better or worse, photogrammetry is trickling down to the consumer level and it isn’t a matter of if, but now just a matter of when. I was essentially asked not to do any more modeling of anything owned by the city, irregardless if it was on public land and in the public domain.

I’m still photographing and working on my models, but I’ve found I have to be a little more circumspect when I’m trying to capture enough photos to model the odd building or landmark.

I personally think both Augustana and Sioux Falls are in the wrong and probably aware of it, but the only reason I’ve ever heard that probably comes closest to why they objected to the modeling is the fear that they would no longer control what is done with my models. The Augustana representative told me that the college was uncomfortable that a person could replace Moses’ head with another or alter my model in such a way that it would look badly or disrespectful.

I contained my knee-jerk response to remind her of the First Amendment and calmly told her that the very thing that Augustana was concerned about had been going on for decades with other public domain art like the Venus de Milo or Statue of Liberty. Their artistic integrity hasn’t been hurt by the many different ways they’ve been appropriated and making them accessible has probably actually increased their popularity. Surprisingly, for a liberal arts college, they didn’t seem to be aware of that aspect and they weren’t having it. The only other thing I can think of is they’re losing sleep over the idea that someone could take my models and improve on them and make physical copies to profit from. I personally don’t mind and think the world could do with more beautiful art.

So have I opened a Pandora’s Box or is this more about the city and college making a mountain out of a molehill where they don’t have a legal leg to stand on?


I thought I should add a post script to the above story:

Cosmo Wenman contacted me about my experience and I shared all the emails from my archive plus my recollections. This has been going on since roughly the past autumn.

He in turn forwarded my story to Michael Weinberg at a non-profit called Public Knowledge headquartered in Washington, DC.

In a nutshell, they both feel that Augustana College & the City of Sioux Falls were using mistaken interpretations of copyright law but came to realize that loopholes exist specifically for public domain art like Michelangelo’s work. The links pointed back to the precedent-setting case that should have settled this non-issue before I came on the scene with my camera.

Cosmo & I share some strong feelings about incidents like this and Michael concluded that after meeting with legal scholars that both Augustana & Sioux Falls were just being bullies and trying to use the legal fig leaf of copyright to veil their discomfort of the concept of photogrammetry.

The last time I was in touch with either representative from the college or city, I told them the only legal way they could stop anyone from doing the same thing I had would be to remove the bronzes from outdoors and place them inside a venue where photography was banned. That was probably going a little too far and I can appreciate that it didn’t help my argument.

Michael and Cosmo have told me that at some point in the future, there will be a big write-up about this tempest in a teapot. Call me stupid, but out of a sense of fairness and desire to be transparent, I visited with the Mayor’s Secretary at the Mayor’s office to give her and City Hall a heads-up about the coming article so they could prepare a response.

Hearteningly, the mayor’s secretary seemed genuinely surprised about all this and thought that photogrammetry was perfectly fine for anything in the public domain. I sent all the relevant links, emails and opinions expressed and she dove into it, and has brought in other city attorneys to look at this. I haven’t heard anything from her since then.

I think the wider the coverage this gets, the more good that can come of it. For whatever reason, a wide range of places all over the United States (and very likely elsewhere) seem to have inconsistent interpretations of what constitutes a copyright or intellectual property.

I’m not trying to drag Augustana and Sioux Falls through the mud as they’re both very good entities, but I do take issue with ignorance that has a chilling effect on a concept like this.

1 Like

@bdnewnan found this article:

It’s an interview of a specialist in NY. The article is mostly articulated around photography. It seems that organizations / museums can’t ask us to destroy 3D captures of public domain artworks. They want to keep a hand on those artworks for financial purposes and try to intimidate people. Also, 3D scans that are purely copies of the artworks can’t be copyrighted.

see Section 62 of the CDPA provides an exception to copyright infringement for works in public places. Read the above link carefully. b

1 Like

I just found this article on TechDirt about Jerry’s issue. Public Knowledge’s Michael Weinberg has some good points to make.

1 Like

@jerryfisher your story just got picked up by (they’re even linking to this conversation):

1 Like

Good News: Replicas of 16th-Century Sculptures Are Not Off-Limits for 3-D Printers

Public Knowledge responds to Augustana’s comments to Slate:
Doubling Down on Copyfraud: You Don’t Need Permission to 3D Scan 500 Year Old Sculptures

I was at the SAA meeting today and in a session on 3D modeling and printing was identified as a resource on some legal - specifically intellectual property - matters. I thought I would share the link here since it’s relevant to some of the issues that have been raised.

Here in Italy i had to request written consent from the local authority for the archeological heritage, that also manage the museum, to publish here on sketchfab the two head that i have in my profile. I published them without knowing (my fault), i was nearly sued and i had to take them down, ask for consent and then reupload them.

I’m not entirely clear what the case was here - did you 3D scan work that was placed in a museum?

Yes they were placed in a museum, i requested and obtained authorization to take the photos specifyng the purpose (3d scan) but i assume it was alright to publish the model here. Clearly i was wrong and i had to ask for another authorization for showing the work (not only on sketchfab but even on my personal portfolio) and only with adding a specific description .

Thanks for clarifying. And would you have been allowed to publish the pictures without the second authorization, or not?

As they said, no, even the pictures, they clarified that i could only use them for personal, non public use. I made some research and found out that taking pictures should be free for non lucrative use, but i was not aware at the time.

Aie, I had a scan of something in a museum in Paris and uploaded here. Without any knowledge of laws, I showed the model in Sketchfab to the museum’s facebook. Much later, they said “thank you”. I suppose that it is OK?

Nevertheless, I should be careful next time. While I strongly believe the photos I took belong to myself, then I can produce anything from it, but legal things can be very complicated.

Regulation in Italy is stricter and a little confusing, i had no problem taking photos in museums in France or Germany.

Good article by Michael Weinberg of Shapeways on the tricksy nature of applying copyright to 3D scans (of anything):

or direct download the PDF