3D Printing & Copyrights: What You Need to Know

lef shark 3d
With 3D printing pens and printers in our hands, there are all kinds of three dimensional objects we can create.  Assuming that we have the creative flair and the requisite advanced 3D scanners, there is so much we can accomplish: print instead of buy products, customize things to our liking, take designs and improve upon them…. We can simply ‘print’ objects from the past that holds nostalgic memories for us – want a vintage model car? We could print toys – vintage Mickey Mouse anyone? And how about customizing food – a chocolate bar shaped like Goofy?

There is only our own imagination to limit us and 3d printers can in fact change the world. This can happen if the process is not strangled in a lawyered up world as Forbes put it recently.  So this brings us to the issue of Intellectual Property (IP) – the of copyright, patent, trademark, industrial design rights and so on from infringement.

If IP rights are to be protected, and they certainly do; does this mean that if you decided to ‘print’ a Barbie doll for your child or grandchild, you could get into trouble? Would you be guilty of creating a knockoff punishable under the law if you decide to ‘print’ a piece of designer jewelry you liked and admired? To put it simply, can you be sued for printing Paul McCartney in 3 D?

General principles relating to the protection of intellectual property

Actual laws, their strictness and the punishments they carry vary very significantly in different countries across the world. However the aim of all intellectual property law is to reward originality by protecting designers and makers and by preventing people from copying their ideas and inventions them or passing them off as their own.  In theory, anyone would be infringing upon the intellectual property rights of any individual or company that owns a copyright or trademark, or which holds a patent for any particular product, design or process.

Some experts express the apprehension that there would be very significant losses that result from “theft due to 3D printers”. One resource has predicted a loss of at least $100 billion per year in IP globally by the year 2018. Even if this sounds alarmist or exaggerated, there is the undeniable social and economic imperative for protecting the rights and the intellectual property of creators and designers.

Practical problems 3D printers can face

Take the example of the Tin Tin Rocket on Thingiverse (Thingiverse facilitates sharing of user-created digital design files). The owners of TinTin comics took exception to the rocket design on thingiverse and said it was in infringement; consequently a takedown notice was issued.

More recently Fernando Sosa, political sculptor, got into trouble for his 3D figurine of “Left Shark”. Katy Perry called him the Superbowl MVP and Sosa received a cease and desist order calling for the removal of the shark figurine from Sosa's website Shapeways. It is Sosa’s clam that it is not possible to copyright a “dancing shark” per se. We may agree or disagree, but the matter is now before a court and a judge will decide on it.

The apprehension is 3D printing could trigger a raft of litigation in the coming years.  This in turn fuels the apprehension that innovators could be restricted, their creativity stifled by the fear of being sued by companies or individuals claiming infringement of copyrights or other IP.

3d printing and copyright

Right now the law is not very clear on the issue – it typically takes time for the law to catch up to technological advancements. Most IP protection laws contain a standard limitation for the non commercial or private use of works of art, designs or inventions. It is impractical for law enforcement authorities or legal reps of IP owners to go after individuals and home 3D printing, but that probably will not stop them trying.

Simply put, if you decide to print yourself a miniature model of the classic Volkswagen Beetle or print a Hershey chocolate bar as you remember it from your childhood, it is highly unlikely that you will be issued a legal notice for this. But if you ‘print’ that chocolate and make a business out of it, this is a whole other issue.

3D printing and copyrights is an developing issue – as 3D printing evolves further, more possibilities of infringement will emerge, and the law will strive to catch up to this. While currently, much of 3D printing seems to fall outside the ambit of the law, this could change. We’ll just wait and see what the judge says in the matter of the Left Shark shall we?

What is your prediction in the matter? Drop us a comment below.  Meanwhile stay tuned to more updates via our newsletter. You could also follow us on Facebook , Twitter or Pinterest to know about the best deals in ink cartridges for your home printer and to know more about the advancements from the world of 3D printing.