Sketchfab Launches Public Domain Dedication for 3D Cultural Heritage


We’ve just announced the Creative Commons 0 dedication for downloadable cultural heritage models on Sketchfab. This means creators can download amazing 3D scans to re-use and remix for free but unlike other CC licenses there is no need to credit the original author.

This seems like a good time to share some information about what the Public Domain is and how it is possible to re-use 3D models that have been made freely available. Read on for a summary, but remember: as we are not lawyers, always seek proper legal advice when you are unsure of how you should proceed regarding copyright.

For more information about our CC0 launch, read our blog post:

What is the Public Domain?

This summary from Stanford University sums up Public Domain content nicely:

“The term “public domain” refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, but no one can ever own it.” - Welcome to the Public Domain - Copyright Overview by Rich Stim, fairuse.stanford.edu

The CC0 dedication is the mechanism by which a 3D model (or any other work) can be placed into the public domain. Once in the public domain, the 3D model becomes a digital resource that can be incorporated into new works again and again by anyone with the right software and inspiration.

How can I use CC0 3D Models from Sketchfab?

In all kinds of ways! Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Use a 3D model in your next school project
  • Use a 3D model in your next commercial project
  • Add a 3D model into your next game, video or artwork
  • Grab a high-resolution render of a 3D model and stick it on a t-shirt
  • 3D print yourself a mini-museum
  • …add your suggestion as a reply to this post!

One thing that you can’t do is offer the exact same (unmodified) 3D model that has been dedicated to the public domain under a new license. This means that you can’t simply download a CC0 3D model, then repost it for download under a Creative Commons attribution license or for sale on the Sketchfab Store (or anywhere else for that matter). To do this you would have to build something new upon the original public domain data, and even then:

“The copyright in a derivative work covers only the additions, changes, or other new material appearing for the first time in the work. Protection does not extend to any preexisting material, that is, previously published or previously registered works or works in the public domain or owned by a third party” - Copyright in Derivative Works and Compilations, copyright.gov

In the same vein, you cannot directly repost or republish an unmodified public domain 3D model and apply a new license (CC or otherwise):

“The copyright holder is the only person that can apply a CC license to a work. If the work is in the public domain, no copyright licenses should be applied, and in the case of CC licenses, which are designed to only operate where copyright exists, the application of a CC license is ineffective.” - Reproductions of Public Domain Works Should Remain in the Public Domain, creativecommons.org

Why CC0 for CH?

We have chosen to open the CC0 download option just to cultural organisations for the time being for a couple of reasons. Firstly, and as mentioned, it aligns well with the work that galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (GLAMs) are already doing with regard to open access. Secondly, dedicating a 3D model to the public domain before its copyright expires is a significant action and all of the organisations in Sketchfab’s CC0 launch have vetted their content thoroughly before adding the dedication. As we follow the response to this initiative we may consider offering the choice of CC0 dedication to other communities on Sketchfab.

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