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3D Print.com Discusses the Ethics of Scanning Cultural Artifacts

Over at 3D Print.com, there is an interesting article discussing the ethics of scanning and copying in this new age of 3D printing. 

Oliver Laric, known for his “3D scanned prints of numerous works of art” has caused a controversy by creating “3D scans of seven columns from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing.”  These columns have been housed in Norway, “after having been removed from China in the 1860s.”

The fact that these columns were removed from their cultural and ancestral home is troubling in and of itself, but luckily “the decision has been made to return the columns to China where they will reside in the collection of Peking University.”

However, as 3D Print.com goes on to say, “now that the columns are destined to be returned, the existence of scanned copies of them is seen by some as yet another attempt to steal them.”

Laric argues that these scans expand “the…dialog of authenticity…the very nature of the digital world is one in which copies are continuously produced and the line between piracy, flattery, and imitation is still being defined.”

Laric’s copies are currently on display at the KODE Art Museum of Bergen “and he has elected to make the 3D scan files available as a free download from the web.”  The fact that anyone with the right know-how and software can print these columns has “led to the concern over the impact on the cultural value of the original objects.”

 Perhaps the most troubling thing of all “is that the decision to copy them and the act of dissemination was not performed by the Chinese people, but rather by a Western artist in the very location where they were so long held as loot.  It may seem an insult to return the originals while simultaneously taking their form and making it infinitely reproducible….their reproduction is a fascinating added dimension to consider in the philosophy of cultural stewardship and theories of 3D creation.”

Photo and Quotes Courtesy of 3D Print.com

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