While 3D printing used to be out of reach for most due to its high costs, recent advances are poised to bring the unique technology to the masses. President Obama even mentioned it in his last State of the Union Address.
As a result, the copyright infringement implications for 3D printing are becoming even more important.
Through 3D technology, it is possible to create a new object by simply downloading a design file and printing it out in plastic. Of course, any time an object is digitized and copied, there are intellectual property implications.
Much like music sharing sites, there are also 3D model marketplaces where users can share 3D renderings, which can then be printed. Thingiverse and Shapeways are two of the most popular. Both have seen a significant uptick in activity in recent months, with many of the designs based on copyrighted and trademarked content.
Not surprisingly, Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices and cease and desist letters are also on the rise. For instance, HBO recently requested that a Florida man stop selling a 3D printed iPhone dock that he modeled after the Iron Throne chair from its Game of Thrones series. “While we appreciate the enthusiasm for the Series that appears to have inspired your creation of this device, we are also concerned that your iron throne dock will infringe on HBO’s copyright in the Iron Throne,” HBO wrote.
Although rights holders are starting to take action, the intellectual property law surrounding 3D technology is largely untested. Given its novel characteristics, it would not be surprising if 3D printing tests the bounds of existing IP laws and even generates new precedent.