Jan 22, 2015 | By Simon

While many museums and public agencies have had open arms when it comes to replicating their museum collections with a 3D scanner for others around the world to be able to 3D print, it appears that not everybody seems to agree with the notion of sharing artwork openly.

Jerry Fisher

More recently, Jerry Fisher, a Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA resident and 3D printing enthusiast, ran into some difficulties with a local liberal arts college after he had uploaded a 3D model of a statue that was on the school’s grounds to Makerbot’s Thingiverse.

The statues in question - which are full-sized bronze casts of Michelangelo's David & Moses - were both given to the City of Sioux Falls and Augustana College in the early 1970s by a local who wanted to give a gesture of thanks after he had struggled as an inventor in the community during the early 20th century.

Fisher, being the curious 3D printing enthusiast that he was, wanted to create a 3D model of the statues’ busts using a collection of over a thousand photographs that would produce a high-quality and detailed digital model.

After deciding to model Moses with the images first, Fisher posted screenshots of his progress to Twitter and Google+ before finally uploading his “crude first try” of the 3D model of Moses to MakerBot’s Thingiverse.  

Michelangelo's Moses By Fisher

“Shortly after that,” says Fisher, “a representative from Augustana contacted me and requested that I take Moses down immediately and to contact anyone else with a downloaded copy of my model and inform them that they should delete it.”

Surprised and disappointed, Fisher asked for a reason why and was informed that Augustana's legal department considered Moses a copyrighted work... despite it being a public piece of artwork that was given to the school by a good samaritan rather than the school purchasing it.  

After attempting to work with the representative from Augustana and the school’s elusive legal department, Fisher then went to a local attorney to further research exactly who was in the right and who was in the wrong.  

According to the attorney, she felt that the photography of Moses and David was perfectly fine, although if anyone attempted to sell the photography or transform them into models, that a copyright or intellectual property of some sort was being violated.

Still frustrated, Fisher reminded all of the parties that “For better or worse, photogrammetry is trickling down to the consumer level and it isn't a matter of if, but now just a matter of when.”

Afterwards, he was told that he could continue the photogrammetry so long as it wasn’t of any property owned by the city regardless if it was on public land and in the public domain.  

Still frustrated (and clearly persistent), Fisher got in contact with Washington, DC non-profit Public Knowledge and further investigated his rights with Public Knowledge legal specialist Michael Weinberg.   

“In a nutshell, they [Public Knowledge] feel that Augustana College & the City of Sioux Falls were using mistaken interpretations of copyright law but came to realize that loopholes exist specifically for public domain art like Michelangelo's work,” said Fisher.   “The links pointed back to the precedent-setting case that should have settled this non-issue before I came on the scene with my camera.”

Still frustrated - and even going so far as to tell the school and city they should remove the public artwork and house them in private facility that bans photography - Fisher went to the local Mayor’s office where he spoke with the secretary about the matter.  While the secretary was “genuinely surprised about all of this” and thought that it was perfectly fine in the public domain, Fisher is yet to hear back from her or the mayor on the matter.  

Despite his experiences, Fisher has faith that once more people hear about his story - as well as experience it for themselves - the greater issue of replicating public art works as 3D models that can be 3D printed will sort itself out.  

“I think the wider the coverage this gets, the more good that can come of it,” adds Fisher. “For whatever reason, a wide range of places all over the United States (and very likely elsewhere) seem to have inconsistent interpretations of what constitutes a copyright or intellectual property...I do take issue with ignorance that has a chilling effect on a concept like this.”

Posted in 3D Design


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jj wrote at 4/19/2016 4:37:53 PM:

people these days

Steve wrote at 1/27/2015 2:48:44 PM:

Copyright law protects the original owner of the copyright and anyone he or she assigns that right to. Since Leonardo's work pre-dates modern copyright law it is in the public domain. This is not a complicated issue, but everyone tries to make it complicated.

2cents wrote at 1/23/2015 3:48:57 PM:

Photography is not a crime. It's well established that if it's in public view, it's open to photograph. What I do with my own property, the photographs, is my business. 3d modelling something is a creation unto itself as it will not be a perfect replication. What's funny to me is, this isn't even original artwork... the art itself is a replication.

2cents wrote at 1/23/2015 3:46:31 PM:

Photography is not a crime. It's well established that if it's in public view, it's open to photograph. What I do with my own property, the photographs, is my business. 3d modelling something is a creation unto itself as it will not be a perfect replication. What's funny to me is, this isn't even original artwork... the art itself is a replication.

Anonymous wrote at 1/22/2015 8:52:44 PM:

How about we all just send hate mail to the college until they leave this poor fellow alone? A copyright infringement on a copy? Should we attack them for their infringement?

Stuart wrote at 1/22/2015 5:54:47 PM:

So is not all any work of a public official in the US automatically public domain, so would not the gift to those public officials then the copyrights then should become equally public domain. And how much artistic work is vested in the copy of a work that is clearly out of copyright. This is like saying it is fine to take a photo of the Mona Lisa because that is out of copyright, but if you attempt to paint a picture from the photo your are breaking copyright?

Yannis wrote at 1/22/2015 4:53:22 PM:

I thought art was everyone's property!

Marcello wrote at 1/22/2015 3:19:34 PM:

Funny how they bother with copyright since the statue is just a COPY of the original one in Italy.... I suggest he comes to Italy to scan the originals...

Scanzor wrote at 1/22/2015 2:06:07 PM:

Does anyone know what kind of scanner he used?

copi3d wrote at 1/22/2015 3:14:23 AM:

This is the college's website: http://www.augie.edu/ Please post a link to the 3d model if you have a copy.

Andrew wrote at 1/22/2015 2:45:18 AM:

Let me get this right... The college believes that he is violating copyright by reproducing sculptures of REPRODUCTIONS of original artwork that is over 500 years old? I know it's an arts college, but they have to stop smoking whatever they're smoking. Am I missing something here?

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