Antiquities, Masterpiece, Rights of Ownership and 3D Scanning

I have been spending some time looking at historical artifacts and the copyright and ownership issues surrounding them.  The reason why this topic has created some interest to me is that I’m curious about the advancement and tremendous increase in 3D scanning of artifacts.

It seems there are benefits in the 3d scanning of these precious items.  There may be information captured by the scanner that will help scientist know more about the item.  It offers an opportunity to document and make accessible the information.  For example, the tomb of Tutankhamun is being scanned in hopes of preserving it so that the experience and information can be made available to those interested  without actually having to make it accessible for individuals to experience it.  This is important because the experiencing of some artifacts causes more damage to them. And it can be an asset in the restoration of an artifact.

Recording the tomb of Tutankhamun from factum-arte on Vimeo.

I have been cautioned not to  just embrace all of this new technology without trying to thoroughly examine it. So, I must ask myself, what are the cons of having the artifacts scanned in 3D?  Before I answer that, I thought it would be appropriate to look at some of the issues and questions revolving around the artifacts themselves.

For example:

  • Is it ownership that is important or access?
  • If I own land and I dig something up on my land.  To whom does it belong? It will depend on the country you are in and the laws within that country. The antiquity may not belong to you. If it did not, would I report it or would I be more inclined to cherish my treasure without saying a word ?
  • Many laws are developed in hopes of preventing looting of antiquities. Do they actually accomplish this?  How do these laws effect poorer countries?
  • How do I feel about cultural property?
  • If something is taken or looted what happens to “the loss of context?”  Having a coin but knowing where it was found or what the people who had this coin did, ate, where they slept, is important. It is not just the object that is researched, but where it was found.

How important is it for individuals to be exposed to the cultures and antiquities of those around the world?  Should countries horde their antiquities?  If antiquities can be distributed through trade, what happens with countries that have nothing to trade?  How do they expose their people to the cultures around the world?

According to an article that I read, if I happened upon a stolen or found object and it ended up on the desk of an archeologist and it had something of importance on it, that information cannot be published. How difficult it must be for the archeologist who happens upon this. The reason—  it has no legitimate provenance and the Archeological Institute of America forbids it. Why? If the archeologists should transcribe it and publish it, then they would be determining its authentication and making it more valuable.

Identity, self esteem, illicit digging, artifacts, private/market all of these words initiate a tremendous amount of passionate opinion in the information that I was reading about this subject.

Should there be a cultural common? Shared information and artifacts between countries, museums and collectors.  The  Brooklyn museum is making some of their artifacts, for which they hold the copyright,  available on a Creative Commons License.  Those who want to use them for non commercial use can do so.  But, how is this policed?

I would suppose that the same questions and concerns that are found with traditional masterpieces and antiquities will apply to 3D scanned artifacts.  Who owns them?  Should they be reproduced?  And my biggest thought is, that it is much easier to steal a data file than it is a physical dated fossil.

I also wonder about the artists who might use these artifacts as part of their own work. In the case of artists Barry X Ball, whose work I absolutely love, I have questioned this.  Ball has taken digital scans of two Braoque pieces, “Masterpieces in the permanent collection of Ca’Rezzonico, Venice— La Purità (Dama Velata), by Antonio Corradini, and La Invidia by Orazio Marinali, as well as Hermaphrodite Endormi from the Louvre, Paris.” and he has digitally scanned them.  Then he recreates them using digital milling in another substance.  Does he sell these?  Can he sell these? Is this art?  Can he copyright this as his own?

So I ask the question, What are the pro’s and con’s  and more importantly, what are the questions I should be asking when looking at this new technology of 3D scanning as it pertains to masterpieces and artifacts?

( I do hope to cover more podcasts on this subject. Looking for lawyers working with antiquities)

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