Industry expert warns that 3D printing cannot rely on Creative Commons and OSS legislation
Open Source Software licenses and Creative Commons agreements have become part and parcel of the 3D printing industry, but now an industry expert has warned that they are simply not up to the job and could cause serious problems.
Michael Weinburg has written extensively on the field of 3D printing and copyright and it’s a subject that makes the whole industry nervous. Now he has published a paper entitled: The Cost of a Successful Creative Commons and Open Source Software Movement.
We know that Intellectual property is going to become increasingly complex as 3D printing takes hold and we can 3D print the actual final product in our homes or at a local 3D print shop. We also know that we need new laws to cope with the new industrial revolution. Nobody seems to have a clear vision of how it is going to work, but Weinburg is absolutely sure that the Open Source and Creative Commons rules that many repositories and design communities rely on simply aren’t up to the job.
A lot of designers are happy to share their work. But as things stand there is nothing to stop a company taking the design and turning it into a commercial venture. By the letter of the law, the company doesn’t even have to credit the creator and they certainly don’t have to pay them.
This has caused serious friction in the open source world. The likes of Makerbot have found themselves at the center of a storm of negative PR after starting with open source ideas and then integrating them into a closed source design, but nobody could stop it.
It’s a problem that will keep getting worse and companies are starting to realise the benefits of simply combing through the open source communities for commercially viable products they can simply take. There’s no research and development, almost no design work and they can turn a design into a quick profit.
The simple fact is that Open Source Software and Creative Commons licenses simply weren’t designed to deal with these kinds of issues. Some specific parts of an open source hardware project are often protected and a large number of 3D printed objects are covered by a basic form of copyright, but utilitarian and basic objects aren’t covered.
Lawyers can even make a case for slight changes to complex objects that might look the same as a supposedly protected item in photographs. So even if a community or individual designer feels that they are simply showing a design, or sharing it for non-commercial use, they may well find that they don’t have the protection they thought was in place.
It could get even more complex if a designer incorporates what they think is open source work into a larger project and then find themselves on the receiving end of a claim. That makes the whole field murky and complex. So we need some clarification.
The University of Melbourne recently produced a website to help the general public get started with 3D printing and included a thorough guide to the complexities of intellectual property and copyright law. It’s a solid start, but it is a guide and it’s a long way short of the answer we need.
As an industry we need to address this problem sooner, rather than later. Intellectual property is a thorny issue in any industry, but 3D printing removes production barriers like tooling and it allows anybody with a suitable 3D printer to take a design and print the product within hours.
Recent research shows that it’s possible to hack a 3D printer with just a smartphone, too, so a determined third party can copy almost any product without even accessing the file. There are so many ways to access designs, from the software through to the printing process, that we need a robust set of laws in place to deal with potential copyright infringement after the event.
At the moment, we just don’t have them and relying on laws that were designed for other things just isn’t going to work. Weinburg is right, we need something better.