3D Methods and Hyper Ownership

3D scanning and printing has changed how we view reproduction, small scale manufacturing and copyright. Drawing out further rifts and divides between those in possession of knowledge and those who wish to share it. The future of the technology is unclear. Only some things can be said for certain. One, that 3D printing will expand and become cheaper and two, that it will clash with and morph current copyright laws. Amy and Christopher Blackwell describe the current state of affairs as a one of hyper ownership “in which seemingly everything is subject to being owned by someone”(Blackwell, 137, 2013). Such ownership has lead to restrictions in accessing cultural heritage. This leaves us with a paradoxical relationship between copyright law, innovation and development. Instead of pushing the two forward it appears only to hinder them.

Michael Weinberg sees an idealistic future where the mechanical reproduction of 3D scanning forgoes the pitfalls of patents and constructs a future without copyright. He refers to the earlier debates surrounding photographic copyright and how mechanical reproductions of the world without artistic merit or originality do not apply to the patent system(Weinberg, 4, 2016). This may be true in concept but in practice it is not the case. Michael Weinberg argues how this process is like ripping a CD to your personal computer and how mechanical reproductions of the copyrighted content is protected under fair use(Weinberg, 13, 2016). The case of Aaron Swatz is a discerning reminder of a possible future in which such forms of mechanical reproduction do not escape the control copyright systems can enact. With the context of hyper ownership it is hard to see Michael Weinberg’s arguments holding weight.

Many in the possession of knowledge fear that the free copying and distribution of copyrighted material will lead to diminished value. The worry that once information is allowed to flow freely control over the object and who profits from it is lost. Through Charles Cronin’s article on “3D Printing, Public Domain Cultural Artifacts & Copyright” we can see how much 3D methods have caused a rupture in ownership and brought this fear to light “The control over the replication of public domain artifacts posed by 3D replication has disconcerted the owners of these objects “(Cronin, 1, 2016). Here copyright as well as other methods such as the banning of photography in museums becomes a tool in protecting hyper ownership and the monetary interests of those in possession. Cronin also argues that with the influx of 3D technologies will come an influx of  3D models and though some iterations may offend the owner of the cultural artefact ,and can be used as a excuse to restrict access, they do not do anything towards damaging the work itself. They do however “kindle interest in obtaining or producing high quality reproductions”(Cronin, 20, 2016) therefore driving up the prestige of these objects. Cronin’s article shines light on the context of hyper ownership and how 3D printing and 3D models can become a way to subvert this.

A central focal point which captures both these debates is the scanning of the bust of Nefertiti(Voon, 2016). The fact that an artefact which should belong to public domain needs to be secretly scanned in and of itself shows the rifts and current worries of hyper ownership. The case itself and the authenticity of the scan highlight the complex nature of 3D models and their ownership as well as the ownership of the physical bust of Nefertiti. The focus of this project and the context of the replica produced by the German artist’s being displayed in Cairo show that these claims to hyper ownership and possession of cultural artefacts often ignore the imperial narratives which lead to their possession in the first place.

3D methods have the means to overcome physical barriers restricting access to cultural heritage but will it be able to over come the legal barriers. 3D printing will certainly shake the power dynamic between those in possession of cultural artefacts and those without. It is yet to be seen however, if it will shift the encompassing hold of ownership greatly or will it be held down by copyright and hyper ownership policies.


Blackwell, Amy Hackney and Christopher William. “Hijacking Shared Heritage: Cultural  Artifacts and Intellectual Property Rights” Chicago-Kent Journal of Intellectual Property(2013): 13-1

Bombardieri, Marcella. The inside story of MIT and Aaron Swartz, Boston Globe, https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/03/29/the-inside-story-mit-and-aaron-swartz/YvJZ5P6VHaPJusReuaN7SI/story.html Accessed 16 October 2016

Cronin, Charles Patrick Desmond. “Possession Is 99% of the Law: 3D Printing, Public Domain Cultural Artifacts & Copyright.” USC Law Legal Studies Paper(2016) 16-13

Voon, Claire. Artists Covertly Scan Bust of Nefertiti and Release the Data for Free Online. HyperAllergic, http://hyperallergic.com/274635/artists-covertly-scan-bust-of-nefertiti-and-release-the-data-for-free-online/ Accessed 16 October 2016

Weinberg, Michael. 3D Scanning: A world without copyright, Shapways, http://www.shapeways.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/white-paper-3d-scanning-world-without-copyright.pdf Accessed 16 October 2016

2 thoughts on “3D Methods and Hyper Ownership

  1. While I think the Swartz case is an interesting insight into the complications of copyright law I do not think it contradicts or undermines Weinberg’s argument exactly. Rather the case would be better suited as an addendum to Cronin’s argument. Fundamentally, Weinberg’s piece concerns copyright coverage and entitlement of 3D scans once they have been created, specifically, this coverage refers to the scanner and whether another person is entitled to replicate the result without infringing on the first scanner’s rights. Essentially, are scans copyright protected. In Weinberg’s theoretical hypothesis the scanner already has the ability to access and copy the artefact. This perfectly replicates the CD analogy as when a CD is purchased the user is entitled to store the product in another way but they are not entitled to reproduce it for personal or financial gain.
    However, Cronin’s piece addresses entitlement to access and duplicate artefacts in the first place, that is create a scan. I believe this is where Swartz’s case fits in. The issue with Swartz’s case is that obtaining and downloading massive amounts of material over a sustained period of time, as an unknown user, comes into conflict with JSTOR’s data usage policy. While the purpose of Swartz’s downloads are not known it is speculated that he was motivated by a desire to make academic research freely accessible. Sadly, this kind of open sharing platform contradicts JSTOR’s user agreement and that is where his case falls. Therefore, it is really Cronin’s work that can be comparable to Swartz as both argue and strive for a greater sharing community in which knowledge is freely accessible and openly shared. That being said, I think it was a great case example of the complicated processes surrounding access to digital knowledge.

  2. The reference to the imperial narratives leading to the possession of cultural artefacts raises a critical issue which needs to be addressed. As the situation stands, access to cultural artefacts from previously colonised states is oftentimes limited to those residing in the one-time coloniser state. This, in effect, means that the people for whom access to artefacts is the easiest are also the people for whom the cultural connection to these artefacts is the weakest. Naturally in such an instance the issue of cultural appropriation arises, with once-colonised cultures effectively disinherited from that which is rightfully theirs.
    Is it ethical that such disinheritance occur? Is it a reinforcing of the colonial order? These are questions which need to be addressed regarding the present state of cultural heritage.
    However, these are also questions and issues which may be redressed via 3D scanning. The availability of technology ought to make it possible for those disinherited cultures to be granted the return of their artefacts. The one-time colonisers which thus far have held such artefacts may exhibit replicas of these artefacts. Of course, there is a bundle of issues which may arise out of such a situation. For example, cultural institutions which thus far have held artefacts would naturally resist returning them to the cultures of origin on the grounds that they would lose prestige and revenue. The culture of origin, for many artefacts, may no longer exist. And yet, it cannot be denied that the very availability of scanning techniques places an onus of sorts on cultural institutions to use this technology for the dissemination of digital renderings of artefacts. In this way, those who are unable to access artefacts can, in a way, do so, especially where these artefacts exemplify the legacy of colonialism, having been removed from their own cultures.

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