Antonio Canova’s “Reclining Naiad” (1819–24), printed by Makerbot
Courtesy Thingiverse Antonio Canova’s “Reclining Naiad” (1819–24), printed by Makerbot

In the early days of audio sampling, concerns erupted over the ease of copying and reusing snippets of songs without the original artist's awareness or permission. At the same time, new musical genres developed from this newfound copy-and-paste technology, which encouraged new interpretations of established musical material by a broader audience. Another form of digital copy-and-paste has emerged recently, with equally profound implications. The potent combination of 3D scanning and printing technologies has greatly facilitated the survey and replication of physical objects. Increasingly fast, accurate, and inexpensive tools—such as Autodesk's 123D Catch scanning software and MakerBot's third-generation Replicator printer—allow the rapid capture and recreation of the physical world.

These tools were tested in early June at the Metropolitan Museum of Art during the MakerBot Hackathon, an event in which the doors of one of North America's most venerable art institutions were opened to a collection of digital artists focused on analyzing, capturing, and replicating its inimitable collection of artifacts. According to the MakerBot blog, the Hackerthon was "designed to highlight both organizations’ passion for open access to art," creating a new kind of access to the intimite physical details of these treasured objects.

The Met's embrace of digital copying contrasts markedly from the Recording Industry Association of America's less-welcoming reaction to audio replication. Presumably, this difference is largely due to the fact that the duplication of physical artifacts via digital tools is still in an early stage of development, and 3D prints are for now clearly distinguishable from the original works. However, as the print bed size, finish quality, and number of material options for object printing continue to increase—as well as the speed and accuracy of digital scanning—"object duping" is likely to be treated differently by the art world. Although the Hackerthon represents a positive movement that we should embrace, it would be naive to presume that physical copy-and-paste will always be accepted so readily. Whatever the outcome, the implications that object duping poses to art—as well as architecture—will be profound.