Creation and copyright law: The case of 3D printing

feature-clones-200The Australian Law Reform Commission is conducting an inquiry into copyright law and the digital economy in 2012 and 2013.

The President, Rosalind Croucher, stated:

“While the Copyright Act has been amended on occasion over the past 12 years to account for digital developments, these changes occurred before the digital economy took off. The Australian Law Reform Commission will need to find reforms that are responsive to this new environment, and to future scenarios that are still in the realm of the imagination. It is a complex and important area of law and we are looking forward to some robust debate and discussion during the course of this very important Inquiry.”

In August 2012, the Commission published its issues paper, Copyright and the Digital Economy. The Commission has posed the question: “Should the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) be amended to include a broad, flexible exception?”

Over the ages, copyright law has been confronted by the emergence of a range of disruptive, new technologies, such as the printing press; the pianola roll; the photocopier; the fax machine; the video cassette recorder; the personal computer; the MP3 player; and the internet. There has often been moral panics about the impact of new inventions, which can facilitate the reproduction and the dissemination of copyright works. The history of copyright law, though, has long involved a process of accommodation of new technologies.

The Australian Law Reform Commission will have to consider the role of copyright law in light of the advent of new information technologies in the digital economy. One of the most notable emerging technologies is 3D printing, which presents both opportunities and challenges for copyright law.

3D Printing

3D printing or additive manufacturing is the process of making three-dimensional physical objects from digital models. The Economist has observed: ‘Tinkerers with machines that turn binary digits into molecules are pioneering a whole new way of making things—one that could well rewrite the rules of manufacturing in much the same way as the PC trashed the traditional world of computing.’

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Established in 2009, the Brooklyn company MakerBot ® is a leader in desktop 3D printing with its technology, the MakerBot Replicator TM. The company emphasises: “Personalized manufacturing using a MakerBot Replicator™ opens up a world of innovation, customization and creativity. MakerBot recommends: “Create your own 3D designs or download one of the thousands of models from, and turn your ideas into real, physical objects”. The company envisages: “With the MakerBot Replicator™, you can invent the future and also be a hero around the house”. Moreover, the company has established a website called Thingiverse, where MakerBot owners can access and contribute to a “universe of things”.

Technology writer Chris Anderson in Wired Magazine has written an appreciative piece entitled “The New MakerBot Replicator Might Just Change Your World” He writes: “Soon, probably in the next few years, the market will be ready for a mainstream 3D printer sold by the millions at Walmart and Costco” and “a3D printer will cost $99, and everyone will be able to buy one.”

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Solidoodle is another leader in 3D printing. The founder of Solidoodle, Sam Cervantes, observed: “From architectural firms creating 3D models to do it yourselfers who want to easily complete projects around their homes, our new printer enables people to create like they never have before.”

There is also RepRap, an open source community initiative designed to develop a 3D printing, which can replicate its own components.

Copyright Law

Above: Makerbot chess set  

Copyright owners have been anxious and fearful about 3D printing, because they fear that it will enable the unauthorised reproduction and dissemination of copyright works. There have been already skirmishes over copyright law and the MakerBot. The Games Workshop sent a takedown copyright notice to Thomas Valenty because he used a MakerBot to design figurines – a war mecha and a tank for use in the game Warhammer 40,000.

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