Who Does That Belong To?: Copyright Concerns in 3-D Printing

3-D printing is everywhere these days. Like our recent blog post on the medical applications of 3-D printing points out, new developments in printing have brought us a long way from the inkjet printer. With any new technology, however, comes a slew of unique concerns over what that technology can do. One of the biggest and most recent of these developments is related to copyright laws.

Why Do Copyright Laws Matter?

At first glance, talking about copyright law might not seem very exciting, but it is vitally important in making 3-D printing viable for consumer use. Because 3-D printers are able to construct everything from iPhone cases to Star Wars figurines, there are a bound to be significant legal challenges to intellectual property rights and product replication. As 3-D printing expands and more people are able to create their own designs, compensation for mass-produced designs also factors into the equation over copyright. Imagine writing a book or painting a landscape but receiving no compensation for it. This same principle applies to the designs for 3-D printed objects.

What Copyright Concerns Are Ongoing?

As Bloomberg reports, iPhone cases are among the items most often disputed in terms of copyright. Because it is so easy to print designs based on popular television shows, including Game of Thrones, the studios that produce these shows are arguing that they violate copyright laws. In the legal dispute over these Game of Thrones cases, nuPROTO agreed to halt production and issue refunds to its customers.

But mistakes like these can prove costly, especially given how expensive 3-D printing continues to be, so companies are taking steps to minimize the risk of copyright infringement and other disputes over printed objects. Shapeways, one of the largest direct-to-consumer manufacturers of 3-D printed goods, is using a legal team to vet every object produced and avoid costly refunds or lawsuits that might result from these disputes.

What Will Be Done In the Future?

Though there are no long-term solutions in place that fully address these copyright concerns, Network World has examined potential solutions. One of these solutions, which has been applied in the music and film industries, involves digitally protecting designs. Because these files cannot be shared between computers and require a purchase sanctioned by a company, counterfeit objects could be reduced in number. However, even this solution is incomplete, given the ways in which consumers already bypass these protections by illegally downloading music, television shows, or films. Still, these solutions offer some promise in making inroads to the growing copyright concerns.

New technology offers a way to innovate and benefit society in tremendous ways. 3-D printing is already showcasing itself as one of these innovative technologies. But with any kind of technology comes a risk of abusing long-standing copyright protections. Given these disputes, it is a wise move as a consumer to stay informed. Next time you visit a website that might be using 3-D printing, check to ensure credit is being given for the objects being produced. Feel free to share your own thoughts about 3-D printing and copyright law below!

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