Intellectual Property Implications of 3D Printing of Cultural Heritage

14 Pages Posted: 23 May 2021

See all articles by Charles Cronin

Charles Cronin

George Washington University Law School

Date Written: May 18, 2021


For millennia access to tangible cultural artifacts like sculpture and paintings was determined by those possessing these objects. Their owners determined who could view these works, and certainly who could copy them through casting and other methods requiring extensive, and even physical, contact with the objects. The development of photography profoundly challenged such control, particularly over cultural artifacts that are primarily two-dimensional, like drawings and frescos. Today, anyone with an iPhone can, for example, capture within seconds, and having no contact whatever with the originals, excellent images of the stained glass of Sainte-Chappelle or paintings by Leonardo at the Louvre. The more recent development and accessibility of 3D scan and print technologies has made possible similar capture and replication of three-dimensional cultural works like sculpture, pottery, and monuments. This chapter examines how 3D technology has challenged the erstwhile control over access and copying once held by owners of three-dimensional cultural artifacts, including some of the most venerable like the Sphinx of Giza, or Michelangelo’s David, which have never enjoyed protection as works of intellectual property. We consider how 3D technology fosters an understanding of public domain three-dimensional cultural artifacts primarily as expressions of information and knowledge that should be universally and freely accessible and reproducible, not as objects owned by a particular individual or population, but as artifacts of humanity.

Keywords: Copyright, Cultural Heritage, Public Domain, 3D Printing

Suggested Citation

Cronin, Charles, Intellectual Property Implications of 3D Printing of Cultural Heritage (May 18, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Charles Cronin (Contact Author)

George Washington University Law School ( email )

2121 I Street
Washington, DC 20052
United States

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