In his article 3D Scanning: A World without Copyright, Michael Weinberg focuses on the fast developing technology of 3D scanning and whether or not 3D scans should be protected by copyright.  The answer to this question is that it depends on whether or not the particular scan meets the criteria of originality and creativity (Weinberg 2).  The author, correctly in my opinion, takes the stand that scans should generally not be protected under copyright laws insofar as they are realistic and accurate digital representation of a physical object (representational scans) (Weinberg 7).  In contrast, expressive scans are the creation of the scanner who makes an expressive statement through intentionally imperfect scans of the physical object (Weinberg 10).  An example of expressive scanning is the work of Sophie Kahn whose method of artistic expression, in her own words, combines modern digital technology like 3D scanning and 3D printing with the ancient technique of bronze casting.[1]  In the context of this example it is understandable that Weinberg considers that expressive scans should be protected under copyright laws as they do pass the test of originality and creativity.

Période de Clownisme, F. Sophie Kahn (3D print from a 3D scan) Source: www.sophiekahn.net

The two categories of scans are not strictly isolated.  Representational scans can be transformed into expressive scans.  However, it seems less likely that an expressive scan is capable of being converted into a representational one.  The author also considers other related issues surrounding scanning and copyright, most notable of which is that the process of scanning a copyrighted object might constitute infringement on the owner’s copyright even though the scan itself is not protected by a new copyright.  He also makes the point that even though scans might not be protected by copyright, the creation and use of scans and 3D scans can be controlled by their creator under the provisions of contract law.

In his article Possession is 99% of the Law: 3D Printing, Public Domain Cultural Artifacts and Copyright, Charles Cronin also considers the problems of copyright in the digital technology age but he focuses his attention mainly on the problem of the inappropriate assertion of intellectual property claims from owners of public domain cultural artefacts.  The author points out that it is a commonplace practice for museums and other institutions to claim copyright over original artefacts, as well as over two- and three-dimensional copies and reproductions of them.  The author correctly asserts that this practice is fraudulent and has no basis in the existing copyright legislation.  In the absence of copyright protection, owners of public domain artefacts resort to other legal mechanisms like contracts and license in the assertion of their ownership over the originals by authorising the production of any replicas and copies of them (Cronin 723).  In their doing so, the owners ‘appropriate the legal rights of users’ (Cronin 728).  Furthermore, the problem is exacerbated by the absence of rights of users in public domain works in the existing copyright legislation (Cronin 727).  However, the non-invasive digital technologies like 3D scanning and printing make it harder for the owners to assert their authority in circumstances where three-dimensional replicas can be easily achieved with minimal (if any) contact with the original object.

The fast-paced development of 3D scanning and 3D printing poses numerous issues of concern in relation to the existing ambiguous copyright legislation.  Both Weinberg and Cronin point out the necessity of bringing intellectual property law up to speed with quickly developing 3D technology.


Weinberg, Michael.  “3D Scanning: A World without Copyright”. Shapeways, May 2016, pp. 1-16,     http://www.shapeways.com/wordpress/wpcontent/uploads/2016/05/white-paper-3d-scanning-world-without-copyright.pdf.  Accessed on 14 October 2016.

Cronin, Charles.  “Possession is 99% of the Law: 3D Printing, Public Domain Cultural Artifacts and Copyright”.  Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, Vol. 17, Issue 2, 2016, pp. 709-736, http://scholarship.law.umn.edu/mjlst/vol17/iss2/3.  Accessed on 16 October 2016.

[1] Please see the Artist’s Statement available from  http://www.sophiekahn.net/about


  1. In this blog Justin discusses the 3D copyright laws in Weinbergs article, focusing on the status of 3D scans and where they fit into the overlapping snarl of unevenly enforced laws depending on fulfilling criteria and definitions. One of the main problems with copyright law here is the conceptual understanding of authorship, particularly in cases like this when the ‘author’ is the controller of a machine capturing data. The example of expressive scans discussed, namely Sophie Kahn’s deliberate manipulation of data to create artistic impressions definitely fall into the minority of 3D scans out there, though these are protected by copyright. (Weinberg, 10) This example, as discussed by Justin, would fill copyright definitions of ‘creative’, as opposed to ‘objective’ recording or ‘representational scan’ which would be the second category though there is blurred lines between either definition. Justin points out that there are substantial issues around copyright and the 3D scan, which can infringe laws if the object itself falls under copyright. An important point is that though copyright may or not be applicable, the use of 3D scans can be protected and controlled under contract law.
    Cronin’s article focuses on seemingly deliberate attempts to mislead the public about copyright on public domain objects, fraudulent assertions of copyright are used to protect the objects in question from unauthorised reproductions and the profits of the owners of the object. Justin points out that non-invasive scanning techniques have complicated these issues greatly for museums and other institutions in the modern world as 3d models can be potentially reproduced with minimal contact with the object itself. The fast paced development of 3d printing technology does indeed necessitate the swift development of intellectual property laws as Justin concludes, however this is quite a complicated issue and as long as the courts are where definitions are decided, lawyers will argue for a scan to be defined as either ‘representation’ or ‘expression’ depending on the case at hand.

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