Lara Cresser

3D printers – the new tech nightmare for IP owners

Lara Cresser

11 December 2012


It’s true to say that pretty much every major shift in technology has produced a new obstacle for copyright owners; think printing press, photocopier, VCRs, scanners, and the Internet. But they’ve largely been confined to revolutionising the realms of words, images and sounds. What about objects?


The technology required to turn a digital image into a 3D object has existed since the mid 1980s, but has largely been confined to the manufacturing sector and been too cumbersome and prohibitively priced to result in popular uptake. However, now you can get a conveniently sized 3D printer for under $1,500.


Looking forward, as this technology becomes more accessible (an inevitability), the risk of infringement for owners of 3D dimensional objects, whether of copyright or the inevitable overlap with design rights, and even patents becomes astronomical (funny, there’s talk of using them to build things on the moon).


Put simply, 3D printing works by depositing successive layers of material (often plastic) until a 3D object is built layer-by-layer. Like any printer, it requires a digital file to print and the requisite software to enable it to do so.


The printable files can be created in various legitimate ways from being designed individually or accessed via open-source archives like Thingiverse. However, the concerns of rights owners’ revolve around the potential for them to be copied unlawfully. With file sharing sites and countless websites dedicated to the downloading of pirated material, it no longer takes any technological savvy to obtain pirated content. The ability to print objects expands this illegal download market outside the realm of music and video to the potential for pirated objects.


If you haven’t seen just how small and advanced some of the 3D printers on the market are, just type 3D printer into YouTube and be amazed at what they can already do, or click on the following links – You Tube 1You Tube 2.