Last week, we wrote about Augustana College (SD)’s demand that 3D scans of its copy of Michelangelo’s Moses be taken down from the internet. To justify this request, Augustana cited vague (and, it should be noted, nonexistent) copyright concerns. As a result of its ridiculous assertion of a copyright interest in a copy of a 500-year-old sculpture, Augustana deprived the public of 3D scans of this public domain work.
Yesterday, Augustana responded to this controversy in a comment to Slate. Instead of apologizing for attempting to claw Michelangelo’s Moses out of the public domain with threats of copyright infringement, Augustana doubled down on the falsehood that scanning the replica somehow required permission:
Mr. Fisher did not seek the permission of Augustana College nor the City of Sioux Falls prior to pursuing the 3D reconstruction technology or before offering [the 3-D model] to others. … In October 2014, we reached out to Mr. Fisher to express our concern over his actions in light of the fact that he did not seek permission from the College, the City of Sioux Falls or the families of the artist and/or the Fawicks [the family who donated the statue]. At this point, Mr. Fisher made the decision to un-publish the 3D image file.
Let’s be clear again: Mr. Fisher (the person who did the scanning of this public domain sculpture displayed in an outdoor, public area of the college) was and is under no obligation to seek permission from Augustana College, the City of Sioux Falls, the Fawicks, or anyone else before making the scans. The original sculpture is 500 years old. The replica that Augustana owns is not protected by any additional copyright.
Mr. Fisher did not ask for permission before scanning the sculpture for the same reason I did not ask for permission before writing this blog post: the permission of Augustana College, the City of Sioux Falls, and the Fawicks is irrelevant to the endeavor. If I asked and they said yes, I would write this blog post. If I asked and they said no, I would write this blog post. Their opinion about it does not matter. Augustana College, the City of Sioux Falls, and the Fawicks have no ability to use a baseless threat of copyright infringement to control what people do and do not do with Michelangelo’s Moses – even their copy of Michelangelo’s Moses.
When confronted with their copyfraud, the correct thing for Augustana to do would have been to apologize and invite Mr. Fisher to repost his scans. Instead, Augustana decided to suggest that anyone scanning their copy of Michelangelo’s Moses first needs to get permission from Augustana, the City of Sioux Falls, and the Fawicks. That claim is wrong. It is also an embarrassment for Augustana College and, by extension Sioux Falls and the Fawicks.
Image of statue and image of scan courtesy of Jerry Fisher