Pirating 3D objects

Interesting piece in The New Scientist about pirate file-sharing moving into the realm of 3D objects thanks to the growth of cheap 3D printers. Of course the usual folks are coming out to bat for each side, “information wants to be free” versus “lock down the IP”. It seems unlikely that this will play out in the same way, judging by this:

Perhaps such techniques will not be relevant. Michael Weinberg, staff attorney for Washington-based intellectual property (IP) advocacy group Public Knowledge, says that while text, music and video are automatically copyrighted, “the vast majority of physical objects aren’t protected by any sort of IP right”. Copying inventions protected by patents is illegal, as is replicating a trademarked logo, but measuring a desk and building a replica is not.

Panicking companies may push for stronger IP laws if 3D printing becomes more widespread, but Weinberg says this would be a mistake. He suggests companies learn from the media industry’s mistakes and embrace the new opportunities it affords, perhaps by encouraging the legal downloading of object files. “If everyone has access to a 3D printer I can go online, pick an object that I want, customise it and print it out,” he says. “That’s an incredible opportunity for companies.”

As we’ve witnessed with the ridiculous patent battle between Apple and Samsung, it’s unlikely that stronger IP laws would do a great deal. The “incredible opportunity for companies” is also an incredible opportunity for the planet if it helps cut down on shipping stuff all over the world. Let’s not try and cripple it straight away. At least a 3D pirate has to provide his own raw materials.

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