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How the Answer to 3D Printing’s Copyright Problem Might Come From Disney

By March 17, 2017 No Comments

3D printing has a copyright problem.

You see, the ability to create anything means people can create, well, anything. Including:

  • Figurines and busts of favorite characters
  • Copies of objects seen in stores (like a vase or toy)
  • Models of buildings, vehicles, and more

But many of these items fall under intellectual property laws. Just like using a photo without buying it from the photographer or selling pirated copies of movies.

(And, if you offer 3D printing services, you should know these laws. According to an article in Scientific American, if you print an item or develop a 3D file for someone else that is a copyrighted or patented design – or even if you just sell the 3D printer used – you could be pulled into a copyright infringement suit.)

At this time, many companies are ignoring those who use 3D printing to create some wild variations of their iconic products (let’s face it – your beloved comic book or movie heroes ARE products).

But as more desktop 3D printers make their ways into homes and public maker spaces, these companies may finally decide to start doing something about it.

And Then Disney Decided to Get Into 3D Printing

On March 10, 2016, Disney filed for three patents. Two of the patents are for improving 3D printer technology. The last is for identification purposes.

The process described by Disney’s patent application involves printing a method of identifying 3D-printed objects directly into the design’s layers. You wouldn’t be able to see this pattern, but it seems specialized equipment would be able to read the pattern.

If the pattern is present, the item is genuine. If not, you’re in trouble.

This idea protects any items printed by Disney itself (and it seems, with the other two patents, Disney might be exploring the idea of using 3D printing to manufacture some of their products) and those who purchase designs from Disney to print themselves.

How Can You Avoid Copyright Infringement?

You can legally print a model of your favorite movie’s signature vehicle (or whatever you’ve always dreamed of having). But you need to do one of these:

  • Purchase designs directly from the copyright holder or a licensed distributor
  • Request written permission from the copyright holder (verbal permission might hold up in court, but written is better!)

Protect Yourself

How intellectual property laws are affected by 3D printing hasn’t been figured out yet. Mainstream use of the technology is just too new.

This is fast becoming a big problem, though. Especially as 3D printing expands to more industries. For example, many in the fashion industry are concerned 3D printing will make it impossible for clothing designers to make money off their designs.

Until these things are sorted out, play it safe. Know where designs are coming from. Don’t print copyrighted items just for fun.

And if you’re 3D printing your own original designs, maybe borrow from Disney and develop a way to print identification codes into your products.