James Barker



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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.

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University of Washington Technology Law and Public Policy Clinic




3D printing


Intellectual Property Law | Science and Technology Law

Copyright and 3D Printing