to use them to raise awareness of their
historical sites,” he says. “It is vital to
us that countries be able to share their
cultural heritage with their citizens
and the international community.”
When a client finances a project, the
rights to the images are determined on
a case-by-case basis, he notes. Iconem
works with the client to determine
if, how, and where the images can be
circulated, but the client retains the
rights to the images. “Our ultimate
goal is to share the images and mod-
els with the widest audience possible
while respecting the countries and
HIGH ATOP THE Thomas Jeffer- son Memorial in Washing- ton, D.C., isalayerofbiofilm covering the dome, darken- ing and discoloring it. Biofilm is “a colony of microscopic organisms that adheres to stone surfaces,”
according to the U.S. National Park Service, which needed to get a handle on
its magnitude to get an accurate cost
estimate for the work to remove it.
Enter CyArk, a non-profit organization that uses three-dimensional
(3D) laser scanning and photogrammetry to digitally record and archive
some of the world’s most significant
cultural artifacts and structures.
CyArk spent a week covering “every
inch” of the dome, processed the
data, and returned a set of engineering drawings to the Park Service “to
quantify down to the square inch how
much biofilm is on the monument,”
says CEO John Ristevski.
“This is an example of where data is
being used to solve a problem,” to help
preserve a historical structure, he says.
Ristevski says the Park Service was not
charged for the data, and the work
CyArk did was funded by individual
donors in the San Francisco Bay Area,
where the company is located.
CyArk is one of several organiza-
tions using 3D scanning to help pro-
tect and preserve historic structures
from looting, destruction, urbaniza-
tion, and mass tourism. Iconem, a
French start-up founded in 2013,
also specializes in the digitization of
endangered cultural heritage sites in
3D. Like CyArk, Iconem works on-site
with local partners; in its case, in 22
countries. One of those partners is
Microsoft Research, and Iconem’s
technology utilizes the software gi-
ant’s artificial intelligence and com-
puter vision algorithms to integrate
multiple levels of photogrammetry
data to build extremely precise 3D
models, says Yves Ubelmann, an ar-
chitect who co-founded the company.
This type of work has raised the
tricky question of who owns the rights
to these digital scans. Officials at or-
ganizations involved in utilizing these
techniques for historic preservation
say they address this up front to avoid
any contentious battles later on.
Iconem’s projects are either self-
financed or paid for by a client, says
Ubelmann. “If Iconem is the sole stake-
holder, we share the images with scien-
tific or governmental authorities in the
relevant country. They have the right
Who Owns 3D Scans
of Historic Sites?
Three-dimensional scanning can be used to protect
or rebuild historic structures, but who owns that digital data?
Society | DOI: 10.1145/3290410 Esther Shein
Capturing photogrammetric data for the digital reconstruction of a badly damaged temple in
the ancient city of Bagan, in central Myanmar.