The invention of various 3D recording techniques presented the society with an opportunity not only to preserve precious cultural heritage, but also to analyse these objects without fear of damaging them as well as make the digitalized objects available to the public. Although it might appear that the mission of various national cultural heritage institutions is to democratize knowledge and provide public access to it (Samuelson 2015), the need to control the asset remains. In this sense, copyright debate surrounding 3D recordings acts both as an obstacle and safety net.

            Majority of material cultural heritage exists under protection (in one form or another) of the nation states. Museums are an ideal platform to observe how power comes in to play in negotiation of cultural significance and access to the objects with ascribed cultural value. For the sake of this argument, it is important to understand social context of museums as the ‘national’ expressions of identity for bringing together significant ‘culture objects’ of given nation (McDonald 2003: 3). For this reasons, the objects held within the care of the institution may nearly possess symbolic value which needs to be preserved – and copyright proves to be quite a useful resource preventing uncontrolled use of 3D copies.

            Of course, it is in the best interest of any cultural institution to have its objects digitized in order to encourage both individuals and other institutions to engage in analysis, research and preservation (Namir et al 2013). However, once a 3D copy of an object is created, there are also risks of other uses which might impact the institutions in many, mostly financial ways.  Weinberg (2016) scans into two categories, both of which have their pros and cons when it comes to exercising control over the object. Representational 3D scans of the object aim at being as accurate as possible (ibid). For that reason they are ideal for research and analysis purpose since they aren’t ‘distorted’ in any way. Although undoubtedly useful, such ‘perfect’ representation could be potentially harmful for the institution is it was allowed to be reproduced on a larger scale. Lack of creativity used as main argument in copyright debate surrounding representational 3D scans acts like preventative measure, since the institution holding original object can still monitor access to it and decide on its appropriateness. On the other hand, expressive 3D scans (if allowed to take place) which vary from the original object, shift the copyright power to the author of given scans. While there is no fear of the value of the object being decreased by production of multiple copies, the downside of expressive 3D scan can be found in the symbolic aspect of an object. If the creativity of the author is too ‘profane’ it can – theoretically – have negative impact on the ascribed cultural meaning of the symbol.

            Keeping all of the above in mind, Samuelson’s words still carry the most value. 3D scans of the objects are beneficial both for advancing the understanding of the past, preserving material culture and sustaining interest of general public, which significantly outweighs briefly mentioned concerns that could be possibly raised by cultural heritage institutions.


Cronin, Charles. “Possession is 99% of the Law: 3D Printing, Public Domain Cultural Artifacts and Copyright“. 2016. Web.

McDonald, Sharon J. “Museums, national, postnational and transcultural identities”. Museum and society 1.1(2003): 1-16. Web.

Samuelson Pamela “Mass digitisation of cultural heritage: can copyright obstacles be overcome?KCL Law online video clip. Youtube 30 March 2015. Web. 11 October 2016.

Namir, A., Carter, M. and Ferris, N. “Sustainable Archaeology through Progressive Assembly 3D Digitization”. World Archaeology 46.1 (2013): 137-154.Web.

Weinberg, Michael. “3D Scannning: A world without Copyright“, 2016. Web.