Why 3D scans aren't copyrightable

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I’ve only had a chance to skim the article, but I k ow that many more people are concerned with whether scanning something else constitutes IP infringement.

It sounds like the author is saying that if somebody scans an object, no new copyright can be conferred on the scan; rather, copyright is determined by the status of the object being scanned.

How does fair use apply in a situation like this? For example, what happens if I want to scan a Micky Mouse figure and print a copy? Where, precisely, are legal lines crossed, if any?


Well articulated, but I feel like the whole passage of thought should be preceded by “As originally conceived, copyright was intended to …”.

Copyright was originally intended to increase the number of creative works available to the public; its intended mechanism was to incentivize creativity by granting a limited-time monopoly to creators. But copyright has become the tool of corporations to stifle competition, and government has happily gone along and extended copyright to absurd spans. As to what can be copyrighted, I would not be at all surprised to see government similarly wined and dined into similarly departing grossly from the original intent and spirit of copyright.


It sounds like the thing to do would be to include a subroutine in your scanner software to always add something to every scan making that scan copyrightable. So if your scanner includes something like your initials or name in the scan, you have altered it and made an artistic decision to do so. Is that correct?

This is directly related with the shenanigans museums and some libraries have been pulling with works that are clearly in the public domain. They will produce high quality scans or pictures, and then impose copyright upon those materials.


What is the purpose of the MM scan? To teach students about Disney character design? To teach how a scanners and printers work? These options might be allowed under Fair Use. Unfortunately it’s always expensive to defend yourself if you irritate a well financed and touchy IP holder.

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“reproduce the scanned object as accurately as possible” - yes, and a scan of a page of text results in a page of text that has the same form AND function as the original. But a scan of a car is not a car, and you can’t drive off in it. Just like a photo of a building is not a building, is transitional, and does earn its own copyright - a scan of a person is not a reproduction of a person and also deserve its own copyright. I disagree strongly with the premise of this argument. Photographic portraits are copyrightable and so should be 3d scans.

I believe that the difference is that photographs do reflect some artistic vision onto a subject, even if all that encompasses is a portrait. A 3D scan is a literal, non-subjective digital version of a given subject. There’s no artistic vision or interpretation. Now if you were to scan something and then alter it in some way… like give a 3D scan of the David some mouse ears and Mickey outfit then the person doing so is using creative license. Which is copyrightable as far as i understand.


My advice is that the tool used to create something is a distraction. A pencil can be use to either do a sketch portrait, which is definitely copyrightable, or to fill out your income tax forms, which is definitely NOT copyrightable. What choices has the creator made, and are they intended to create an expressive new work?

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Haven’t read the article yet, but: 3d scans aren’t copyrightable but photographs are?

IANAL, but I believe 3D scans are copywritable, but only if they weren’t scanned by a macaque using your equipment.


I understand what you’re saying, but I do disagree. 3d scans, just like traditional photography, can run the gamut from attempting to record unvarnished reality, to being manipulated and framed to present an artistic viewpoint. All photographs, regardless of intention (artistic or not) are instantly copyrighted. 3d scans deserve the same protection.

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It seems that a photograph is naught but a 2D scan; perhaps we would be better served by removing copyright protection from all scans.


All photographs, regardless of intention (artistic or not) are instantly copyrighted.

As a matter of law, that is simply not true. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridgeman_Art_Library_v._Corel_Corp.
This article is simply arguing that a 3d scan of a 3d object closely resembles the 2d scan of a 2d object as seen in the Corel case. Indeed while theCorel case is from an appeals court it is itself based on the logic of Feist v. Rural Telephone case was decided by the supremes… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feist_Publications,_Inc.,_v._Rural_Telephone_Service_Co.

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Literal photographs involve fixed recording at the negative and print stages, either stage involves subjective decision (even if that decision is to be objective). Both the negative and print are separately copyrightable as fixed works.

Any creative work is protected automatically. Medium is not a concern here. The premise of the article is that most 3D scans DO NOT constitute a creative work. This is different from a photograph where lighting, camera settings, angle, position etc. are modified to CREATE a desired effect in the photo. A data set of 3D points depicting an existing form is not creative work, and does not gain a copyright.


Lets say I created a clay sculpture and scanned it. I clearly own the clay depiction of the object and the scan. Let’s say my friend scans my clay object. I still own the digital 3D form he scanned, because his scan is an exact copy of the form that I created.

Well, no, it isn’t an exact copy. One is made of clay, the other is made of bits. But to your actual point, you are describing the 3d analogue of going to a museum and taking pictures of the paintings. We aren’t really changing anything fundamental by changing the dimension.

It actually is an exact copy of the FORM and this is why I have used the word form instead of ‘Object’

An object has a form. If that form is replicated exactly, it will be the same shape. Form is describing the aspect of the item as it inhabits space. If the coordinates are accurately formed into the same shape, then the forms are the same. This is because these creativity laws are evaluated from the standpoint of perceptual limits and not by the same standards as science. Two forms being equal is a perceptual judgment and cannot be made by comparing other properties of the object, but only the object as a whole shape. The copy could be larger, smaller, of a different color, texture, material, glossiness and still retain the same form.

In a way form is quite abstract as a concept and hence, the confusion that arises in these intersections of art and technology.


Noah is dead on. It IS an exact copy, otherwise what’s the point of scanning it if it isn’t. The fact that it becomes a digital representation is irrelevant.

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