Will copyright and IP (Intellectual Property) protection continue to have a role to play in the 21st century? The doomsayers are already out in force predicting that laws and their associated protection have no place in a modern world where a 3D printer could produce almost any object. What is to stop anyone from getting the design file and printing this? Various options exist but could 3D printing produce a Napster moment for product designers all around the globe?
Certainly for the next few years until the quality increases I do not think it likely that current manufacturers will have to worry about 3d printed designs copying their products and being sold. However, as 3d printers continue to reduce in cost, build quality and finishing improve and more materials appear in the marketplace 3d printed objects copied either from the original designs or from scanning the original objects may be sold at a cheaper price on the open market? Does this constitute a violation of someone´s IP? Most would answer yes if you try to sell for money but others would argue that this is the ultimate democratization of society. Indeed, 3d printing has enormous potential for us to move away from being a ¨throwaway society¨ to one that is more environmentally responsible as we have the ability to fix individual parts that break rather than having to throw the whole object away. Doomsayers can also argue that pirated 3d printed designs are less safe. For the average person this may not matter to them if they believe that the cheaper 3d printed pirated product may not cause physical harm but this can certainly happen if the pirated components may be built into a car or plane.
In the next blog I will look in more detail at what can be done and is being done to protect IP in 3D printing.