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The implications of 3D printing are manifold, with some commentators anticipating permanent market disruption in the massive (and ill-defined) field of small physical things. I begin this paper by asserting that the opportunities afforded by 3D printing are so attractive that it is a mere matter of time before an explosion of use; but that the diffusion of manufacturing to the consumer level is poised to put individual end-users in uncomfortably close contact with intellectual property law.
By analogy to the physical CD-distribution model, and the ways in which it broke down in the Napster era, (and with sensitivity to the technological and physical limitations of 3D printing,) I will argue that the copyright landscape as it currently exists is not up to the challenge of managing consumer-grade 3D printing, but that legal clarification as to the copyright eligibility of CAD designs and products can substantially improve this situation.
Moreover, I will argue that business should apply copyright delicately to 3D printing. Rather than enforcing copyrights on a similarity basis, industry should instead adopt permissive models of licensing to manage 3D-printable parts, thereby letting go of a part of the market in order to preserve consumer goodwill and develop new markets.
Submitted to the Washington State Legislature, Technology and Economic Development Committee.
University of Washington Technology Law and Public Policy Clinic
Intellectual Property Law | Science and Technology Law
Copyright and 3D Printing,
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/techclinic/14