Imminent Win For The Public Domain: Court Likely To Compel Musée Rodin To Release Its 3D Scans Of Sculptor's Works For Free

from the why-even-fight-this? dept

Back in 2019, Techdirt wrote about a fascinating case involving a bogus CC license on a 3D scan of a 3000-year-old bust of Nefertiti. The person at the heart of the saga was the artist and open access activist Cosmo Wenman. His web site has some background on what he calls his "freedom of information projects":

For more than a decade, museums around the world have been making high-quality 3D scans of important sculptures and ancient artifacts. Many institutions freely share those 3D scans with the public, allowing us to view, copy, adapt, and experiment with the underlying works in ways that have never before been possible. But some keep their scans out of public view, and I've been trying to help them see the light.

Following his success in liberating the 3D scan of Nefertiti, Wenman is now trying to do the same with 3D scans of the works of the great French sculptor Auguste Rodin. Many of these scans have been created by the Musée Rodin in Paris. There is a long and entertaining article (in the original French and an English translation - pdf) about Wenman's pursuit of the 3D scans, and of the Musée Rodin's refusal to share them. Wenman took an interesting tack, claiming that the museum's 3D scans were documents subject to France's freedom of information (FOIA) laws. It worked:

In late 2018 I sent a formal demand to Musée Rodin for access to all its 3D scans, citing French freedom of information laws. When the museum refused to comply, I brought the matter before the French government.

In June of 2019 the French government agency that oversees FOIA matters announced its first-of-its-kind opinion, in my favor; 3D scans produced by French national museums are in fact administrative documents and are subject to public disclosure. Musée Rodin is required by law to give the public access to its 3D scans of Rodin's works.

Another victory for Wenman, then, but rather a hollow one. Despite the French government agency's ruling, Musée Rodin continues to withhold the 3D scans. Wenman went on to file a suit against the museum in the Administrative Tribunal of Paris. Wenman wants the court to compel the museum to comply with the law, and to impose "significant" financial penalties for any delay. After more than a year with no response, the court directed the museum to present a defense. At the time of writing, Wenman is still waiting. However, given the unequivocal nature of the rulings against the Musée Rodin, he is confident:

Musée Rodin is going to fight, but I expect to win. The outcome will affect every national museum in France, inform policies at institutions around the world, and have interesting effects on the art market.

I’m shooting for a victory for open access, and freedom and innovation in the arts.

The knock-on effects of one person's dogged pursuit of a few computer files could have a major impact on the wider availability of 3D scans of sculptures and ancient artifacts -- a real win for the public domain.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

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Filed Under: 3d scans, copyright, eu, france, nefertiti, public domain, rodin


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  1. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 18 Mar 2021 @ 4:01pm

    Ayn Rand said

    …nothing that hasn’t been said by better (or at least less hypocritical) people than her.


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