Since 2014 I have been trying to access several institutions’ 3D scans of Auguste Rodin’s sculptures, all of which are in the public domain. My inquiries with the Baltimore Museum of Art about accessing their Thinker scan revealed careless access policies and unresponsive decision-makers there. That led me to a confrontation with Musée Rodin in Paris over its self-serving copyfraud and the effortless way the museum harms the public by intimidating institutions around the world.
Musée Rodin interfered with my attempt to access the Baltimore Museum of Art’s scan, and spent over a year refusing to respond to my straightforward requests for an explanation of its decision and policies.
In late 2018 I sent a formal demand to Musée Rodin for access to its own 3D scans, citing French freedom of information laws. When the museum refused to comply, I brought the matter before the government’s Commission d’accès aux documents administratifs, (CADA) the authority that oversees government agencies’ compliance with freedom of information laws.
In its correspondence with the CADA and the Ministry of Culture, the museum warned of conséquences désastreuses to the entire French national museum system if the CADA were to rule that its scans were public documents.
In June of 2019 CADA issued 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.
Despite the government’s opinion, Musée Rodin continues to ignore the law. To remedy this, in December 2019, I filed suit against the museum in the Administrative Tribunal of Paris. I have asked the court to compel the museum to comply with the law, to enforce the CADA decision, and to impose significant financial penalties for any delay.
Musée Rodin delayed its response as long as possible; it remained silent for more than a year. In February, 2021 the Court directed the museum to finally present a defense.
On March 5, 2021, Musée Rodin submitted to the Court its mémoire en défense. It is a mendacious, vindictive, and deeply corrupt manifesto against digitization, openness, and the public’s right to access the public domain.
I filed my response to the museum’s defense on May 24, 2021.
In an important development, open access organizations Wikimedia France, Communia, and La Quadrature du Net officially joined the dispute. They became plaintiffs against the museum and jointly submitted an amicus brief reiterating key parts of my argument to the Court. Communia announced its first-ever strategic litigation, in which it explained to the Court:
“The public domain plays a crucial role in the fields of education, science, cultural heritage and public information.
At an hour when, for the first time in human history, we have the tools to offer direct access to knowledge and culture, it is essential that the public domain can continue to function and play this key role in facilitating innovation and the cultural participation of everyone for the benefit of all.
While the public domain belongs to everyone, unfortunately it is often not defended by anyone. Mr. Wenman’s request is an important contribution to counterbalance relentless attempts to exercise exclusive control over œuvres and works in the public domain. As organizations fighting for the defense and promotion of access to culture and knowledge, the three exhibitors have a legitimate interest in supporting this request.”
The case’s “instruction” phase is now closed, all parties having submitted their filings. I am now waiting to hear how the Court will proceed.
The museum knows it is fighting a losing battle, and refuses to speak with the press about its policies or this dispute. The outcome of this case 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.
My correspondence with The Baltimore Museum of Art, Musée Rodin, and a representative of the Ministry of Culture, along with my attorney’s FOIA request and pre-litigation correspondence with Musée Rodin and the CADA, are organized here with various additional resources and all parties’ contact information: Rodin 3D Scan Access Campaign (.PDF in French and English, last updated March 24, 2021)
My December 2019 Court filing: Cosmo-Wenman-Tribunal-Administratif-de-Paris-Requete.zip (.ZIP archive of PDFs in French and English)
Musée Rodin’s March 5, 2021 mémoire en défense: Musee-Rodin-Memoire-en-defense.zip (.ZIP archive of PDFs; includes English translation of statement and several defense exhibits)
RECENT MEDIA COVERAGE
The Art Newspaper, March 5, 2021:
Musée Rodin could be forced to release 3D scans of bronze sculptures—including The Thinker—to the public
Techdirt, March 18, 2021:
Imminent Win For The Public Domain: Court Likely To Compel Musée Rodin To Release Its 3D Scans Of Sculptor’s Works For Free
The Art Newspaper Edition Française, March 22, 2021
Le musée Rodin menacé de devoir rendre publics les scans des ses sculptures
My successful effort to obtain the CADA agency’s opinion in my favor is recounted in this NextINpact story: Le scan 3D du Penseur de Rodin est un document administratif communicable (PDF in English)
Please contact me for original copies of any of the documents included above, or for related images to accompany any stories.
I will update this page as this project develops.