Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Copiers vs. Creators

Today's guest post is from Scott Harmon, Z Corporation VP of Business Development.

Lately, some interesting people (Ars Technica; Public Knowledge) have started to illuminate the challenges that 3D printers pose to copyright, trademark and patent law. Not surprisingly, IP lawyers are starting to chime in (; as well.

As the makers of the only color 3D printers in the world, the issues are especially relevant. With other printing technologies you can make an object in the same shape as someone else’s work. With our technology, you get the shape and color. Not exactly a replicator, but pretty close.

This debate largely forms around two camps. One camp says that IP laws are critical because they ensure that inventors and creative get benefit from their creations, which provides incentive to create. The other camp says IP laws slow innovation because the owners of the IP are more incented to protect it than to evolve it, and other are prevented from doing so. Clearly both camps are correct.

I was talking to a gentleman at SIGGRAPH who makes and sells models through Turbosquid and other 3D content libraries. He was bemoaning the fact that other ‘artists’ will download a copy of his model, change a few things, and then upload a new model for sale at one third of the cost. That stinks. And, as we have seen, it’s a serious problem for just about all digital media.

3D printing, however, is not a digital media. I believe that the IP problem in 3D printing has already resolved itself. A 3D printer is an excellent tool for creating one new thing (i.e.; a prototype), but a poor tool for copying things in volume (a batch of counterfeit Storm Troopers).

Will the large IP holders care if an occasional one-off copy of their content gets made? Is there any financial incentive for an IP copier to make lots and lots of copies using a 3D printer? I suspect the answer in both cases is ‘no.’ There will certainly be IP violations using 3D printing, but the likelihood that it ever gets to the level of what’s happening in music, video, software, etc. is pretty small.

The more interesting question might be, “How will IP owners, consumer / creators and 3D printers work together to personalize existing IP to create more value for everyone?”  What do you think?

Create More. Copy Less. 

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