Reflective blog post on the reading 3D scanning and copyright law

This blog will reflect on two articles, both regarding the effects of copyright on 3D printing and scanning. The articles involved are, “3D Scanning: A World without Copyright” by Michael Weinberg and “Possession is 99% of the Law: 3D Printing, Public Domain Cultural Artifacts and Copyright” by Charles Cronin.
The two authors have strong backgrounds in copyright and contract law, yet they have differing approaches to the question. Although there is common ground in both articles on a number of occasions, using examples to prove an argument, In particular the Burrow-Giles Co. V Sarony and Meshwerks V Toyota legal cases. Weinberg looks at the question as having two elements, the first being a ‘physical’ item, the second being its 3D digital copy or simply a data file. It could be that Weinberg is aware despite the extraordinary advance in 3D printing, copying artifacts in 3D has its limitations, especially colour. Cronin, on the other hand marvels at the possibilities of the technology, in particular printing. Cronin’s is more in-depth than Weinberg’s following the history of both 2D and 3D technologies. Cronin’s article should be read in its entirety, including the footnotes, that’s where his ‘however’ arguments are to be found, not unfortunately in the main text.
Weinberg uses a similar tactic in his article when he considers various versions of the article, the introduction being the short version, the “yes but what about…?”(Weinberg, 1) being the long version, essentially the rest of the article. Yet Weinberg like Cronin uses his footnotes to refer to further writings on the question. The in class discussion on the question appeared to focus on two main points. The first point being that those establishments or private collectors who held the ‘original’ copies of public domain pieces, gained both morally and financially by allowing free exposure to digitized online copies. The second point being that should these digital data files be used to produce 3D copies; they would be no more than scale models despite their detail. These detailed models could act as invitations for the public to visit establishments that contain the full size original of 2D or 3D, galleries or museums. The question both in these articles and the class discussion remained unanswered; those who hold the artifact public or private consider the copyright or contract. Those organisations that depend on the goodwill of society provide online digital databases and encourage crowd-sourcing. Those with private backers tend to align themselves to their backers’ elitism and pursue what they consider as infringements through the courts.
‘As possibly a tangent to this question is the growing use of ‘YONDR’ devices especially with performance artists. This technology is locked onto your phone or tablet when you enter the establishment. This blocks your phone signal and prevents any form of digital recording. The concept of license or contract was considered in both articles, it is seen here in the purchase of a ticket to a performance event, currently talk show, stand up comedy or music concert. The purchase of the ticket becomes a contract to abide by the rules of the event, namely use the ‘YONDR’ device or no admittance and your money returned. The technology company involved are hoping to expand further’ (New York Times).

Cronin, Charles Patrick Desmond, Possession is 99% of the Law: 3D Printing, Public Domain Cultural Artifacts & Copyright (March 8, 2016). USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 16-13.
Weinberg, Michael “3D Scanning: A World without Copyright”…/wp…/white-paper-3d-scanning-world-without-copyright.pdf, May 2016.
Morrissey Janet – Your Phone’s on Lockdown. Enjoy the Show. The New York Times – Saturday 15 October 2016.

4 thoughts on “Reflective blog post on the reading 3D scanning and copyright law”

  1. While your argument about public and private sector ownership of cultural artefacts seems to favour the idea of preserving the aura of the original, I am inclined to disagree. Weinberg’s theory tends to refute the idea that the original model artefact should be the only copy that we should be considering when we experience culture.
    It is true that expressive scans cannot really be exhibited and appreciated in the same way as the original, as consumers are interested in appreciating the ‘aura of the original.’ It is my argument that while we appreciate it, the importance of the aura does not diminish when copies are made under artistic licence and given copyright protection.
    Coming away from cultural artefacts for a moment, think of how literature and music has been appropriated by various parties, particularly in the last 20-30 years. Such examples include the 1996 movie version of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, which uses the original script but uses artistic license to change the setting, moving the movie to a twentieth century cultural backdrop. While this version of the literature exists, we still study and appreciate the original play, which has been published in its original form for decades, meaning that the cultural importance of Shakespeare has never diminished, despite countless appropriations of his work.
    Coming back to the idea of cultural artefacts, it is important to remember that Weinberg’s theory still protects the integrity of the original artefact and cultural institutions which protect them. When we enter a museum, we do not want to see a copy of an artefact. Through this expectation of the original, museums rely on the original artefacts as much as possible. In this regard, those originals are protected under copyright law according to Weinberg’s theory. New copyright for expressive scans is protection for the artist who creates them and their rights to artistic expression. Such scans, which have been altered from the original in some way, are useless to museums, and are therefore not really a threat to them.

  2. In recent weeks, class discussions have often returned to considering how excessive use of modern technologies by cultural heritage institutions might ultimately impede visitor experience. Questions arose as to whether a visitor should view an artefact through their smartphones or tablets. Some participants expressed unhappiness about members of the public turning their back on an object so that they can take a selfie. This is despite the fact that art museums across America encourage visitors to take and share selfies as they both help the visitor bond to the art and generate free publicity (Grimes). I, for my part, have often felt uneasy about this type of user engagement without fully understanding why. The articles discussed in the above post together with some further reading of my own have led me to reconsider my position regarding the role of photography within cultural heritage institutions.
    The piece in The New York Times referred to in the above blog raises many questions regarding the use of technology and audience participation (Morrisey). Considering the recent in-class discussion, there is one issue that stands out for me: the implementation of no-recording policies empowers the artist and not the audience member. In my view, while artists can exert such control, it remains questionable as to whether they should. Do they have the right to dictate how an audience should engage with their work? Are they disenfranchising their public by do so? Which is more important, the art or the artist?
    The vision statement of Yondr, the technology company discussed in the Times’ article, reads that ‘smartphones have fundamentally changed how we live. How we integrate them into our lives as a useful tool, rather than a compulsive habit, is a question that needs an answer’ (Yondr). Regarding the act of photography, which has become synonymous with the use of smartphones, Joerg Colberg has argued that this compulsivity is an extension of our natural curiousity: ‘photographing an event one is looking at might just be a natural consequence of that compulsive looking’ (Colberg). If Colberg is correct (and for what it’s worth, I think he is), the act of photography has become an integral part of how many visitors to and users of cultural heritage institutions interaction with the world around them. By forbidding photography, museums may be inhibiting the audiences’ ability to engage with their work.

    Colberg, Joerg. Meditations on Photographs: A Car on Fire at the Mall. N.p., 2012. Web.
    Grimes, William. “Museum Rules: Talk Softly, and Carry No Selfie Stick.” The New York Times (2015): n. pag. Web.
    Morrisey, Janet. “Your Phone’s on Lockdown. Enjoy the Show.” The New York Times (2016): n. pag. Web.
    Yondr. N.p. Web.

    Further Reading:
    Miranda, Carolina A. Why Can’t We Take Pictures in Art Museums? N.p., 2013. Web.

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