Feeds

3D printers, one-dimensional enemies

Copy cats

High performance access to file storage

Public Knowledge has published a provocative paper on 3D printing, entitled: "It Will Be Awesome If They Don’t Screw It Up: 3D Printing, Intellectual Property, and the Fight Over the Next Great Disruptive Technology",

The document summarises the battle lines around 3D printing, according to Public Knowledge, a Washington DC digital rights lobby group.

But the paper fails to consider the most obvious and immediate issues that face the technology. We think it is one-sided.

Public Knowledge seeks to protect the inventor who uses 3D printing to create new things. But in doing so it also proposes protecting the fan who doesn't feel like contributing to the cost of developing a character or intellectual property.

We're still a decade away from the time when 3D printing is standard domestic kit, but Public Knowledge is right that we need to start thinking about who should be allowed to do what with the kit when it does arrive.

Molten plastic

3D printers work in a similar way to ink-jet printers, but squirt drops of molten plastic instead of ink. When one layer has been finished the head lifts slightly and deposits another layer, building up a 3D model complete with cavities, but without overhangs (as these would have to be suspended in the air while the connections were laid down).

The technology is mostly used for creating prototypes of products that are manufactured using a cheaper process such as injection moulding, but as 3D printers get cheaper they can replace the moulding process and allow anyone to make small items in their own shed - such as replacement parts for things they've bought.

Public Knowledge believes such freedom is under imminent attack from dark forces, which "will likely seek to criminalise the creation of replacement parts without a licence".

Not only that, but these dark forces "could sue manufacturers of 3D printers on the grounds that 3D printers are required to make copies".

This might sound a little paranoid, but it's worth remembering the levy on blank tapes/CDs that some countries collect on the assumption that a proportion of that media will be used for pirated music, and the (thankfully never enacted) suggestions that Digital Rights Management be built into computers, speakers and everything in between.

There is no need to man the barricades right now - 3D printing technology is still some way from the mainstream. Sculpteo launched a print-to-order service in the UK last month, and if you've a lot of spare time you can even buy yourself a 3D printer capable of printing out a copy of itself, or at least, those parts of itself which are composed of shaped plastic lumps.

"At its most basic, 3D printing would allow you to design bookends that look like your face, or even custom action figures. 3D printing could be used to make simple machines like bicycles and skateboards," says the report from Public Knowledge, massively overstating the state of the art.

Right now you'd struggle to make a Lego bicycle: Lego bricks are about the level we're at today, which brings us to the real problem with 3D printing.

3D printing for all!

Public Knowledge and its supporters might imagine 3D printer enthusiasts as tinkering in sheds to create genuinely innovative products, held back only by the big bad corporations who seek to suppress them.

But anyone who's attended a car-boot sale will know that the first mainstream applications of 3D printing will be ripping off other people's toy designs.

Knit yourself a mouse and you might sell it at a craft fair, but put it in red shorts with some white gloves and you'll be fighting the buyers off, at least until Disney notices.

Hand-crafted copyright infringement is epidemic, check out eBay and you'll see hundreds - remember that there is no authorised Calvin and Hobbes merchandise.

Throw a 3D printer into the mix and we'll all be able to turn out copies of R2D2, Light Cycles or wands identical to that wielded by the boy wizard. And even if we don't have our own printer we'll be able to pick up such junk at the neighbourhood yard sale for a few quid.

Examples of 3D printing

The one on the left is cool, but most 3d printers will be busy creating the one on the right

Some 3D printers will, no doubt, be used to extend the life of a product, or create new physical mash-ups of differing designs, but way before we start infringing patents on product designs we need to address the problem of copyright, which is much easier to infringe.

Going back to our Lego example: Lego bricks used to be protected by patent – not the nobbles on the top but the tunnels underneath that grip them – but these days it's the copyright* (which doesn't wear out) that protects the iconic Lego brick. Make one of those, even in the privacy of your own home, and you'll be in breach of copyright just as much as if you printed out your own Mickey Mouse soap holder. ®

* Well-informed readers have pointed out that the Trade Mark on Lego bricks was knocked back at the European Court of Justice last month, sorry for being out of date on that one but the points about patents, trade marks and copyrights remain valid even if the example no longer applies.

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Don't let no-hire pact suit witnesses call Steve Jobs a bullyboy, plead Apple and Google
'Irrelevant' character evidence should be excluded – lawyers
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Big Content goes after Kim Dotcom
Six studios sling sueballs at dead download destination
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Alphadex fires back at British Gas with overcharging allegation
Brit colo outfit says it paid for 347KVA, has been charged for 1940KVA
Jack the RIPA: Blighty cops ignore law, retain innocents' comms data
Prime minister: Nothing to see here, go about your business
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.