The Legality Of 3D Printing
Josh Chan posted on July 17, 2012 | 6408 views

Figurine similar to copied Warhammer one

All this talk about 3D printing is fascinating and great for the additive manufacturing industry in terms of gaining publicity, however this also spawns a new threat for people who own 3D printers, businesses based off of making products from 3D printers, and people who just upload CAD files for the 3D printing community – the legal system.

Copyright for 3D printing gets complex very quickly (especially with the internet); one of the things being that copyright does not cover 3D printed designs. People can recreate models on their computer software manually or even with a 3D scanner. This is where companies may take legal action, if a person has ‘copied’ their product. This has happened at least once already Clive Thompson on 3-D Printing’s Legal Morass (Wired), “…so Valenty decided to design a couple of his own Warhammer-style figurines: a two-legged war mecha and a tank. He tweaked the designs for a week until he was happy. ‘I put a lot of work into them,’ he says. Then he posted the files for free downloading on Thingiverse, a site that lets you share instructions for printing 3-D objects. Soon other fans were outputting their own copies.”

Michael Weinberg is part of Public Knowledge (a group that works for consumers’ digital rights). He said, “Printing in 3-D is a disruptive technology that raises a lot of intellectual property issues,” which is absolutely true. Not many rules have been put in place to monitor this and one must be careful around this issue.

When Stealing Isn't Stealing (The New York Times), “According to a range of empirical studies, including one conducted by me and my social psychologist collaborator, Matthew Kugler, lay observers draw a sharp moral distinction between file sharing and genuine theft, even when the value of the property is the same.” Stuart Green, a professor at Rutgers Law School, said this. In other words, he believes that people feel there is an ethical difference between file sharing and legitimate theft.

According to Green, “…the code defined ‘property’ to refer to ‘anything of value.’ Henceforth, it would no longer matter whether the property misappropriated was tangible or intangible, real or personal, a good or a service. All of these things were now to be treated uniformly.”

From Green’s statements, if someone were to file share something (let’s a say a DVD) and someone were to steal a car, with both properties being worth the same value; people in general would feel that the file sharing is ethically different than stealing the car, even though they are both worth the same. The penal system however would treat these as the same.

I am by no means saying that everyone should be allowed to illegally download and that laws should not protect someone’s legitimate work. I just think that new or reformed laws will need to be put in place to regulate exactly what can and cannot be printed, fairly. If most people believe that file sharing is not the same as stealing, the laws should correspond since the government is supposed to represent and magistrate for the betterment of the people, however no government is perfect.

All in all, what I am trying to say is that once 3D printers become common in households, file sharing and downloading (for 3D printing files) will happen more often whether it is going to be legal or illegal to do so - according to this article Piracy, “Theft” and 3D Printing (Law, Technology, and Arts Blog), The Pirate Bay intends to host files to print physical objects. I think that there needs to be a balance of specific laws pertaining to illegal downloading, unapproved use etc. (rather than one strict law encompassing everything) with file sharing. This way someone may not be as intimidated to play around with a blank CAD file and unintentionally infringe on someone’s designs.

How do you think laws will change the 3D printing industry as a whole?

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