"It Will Be Awesome if They Don't Screw it Up"
Public Knowledge recently published a white paper on 3d printing (see link for downloadable PDF version).
It compares low-cost home 3d printing technology with home computing and digital publishing, with specific reference to the possibility of DMCA-style legislation preventing the technology reaching its full potential.
In many ways, today’s 3D printing community resembles the personal computing community of the early 1990s. They are a relatively small, technically proficient group, all intrigued by the potential of a great new technology. They tinker with their machines, share their discoveries and creations, and are more focused on what is possible than on what happens after they achieve it. They also benefit from following the personal computer revolution: the connective power of the Internet lets them share, innovate, and communicate much faster than the Homebrew Computer Club could have ever imagined.
The personal computer revolution also casts light on some potential pitfalls that may be in store for the growth of 3D printing. When entrenched interests began to understand just how disruptive personal computing could be (especially massively networked personal computing) they organized in Washington, D.C. to protect their incumbent power. Rallying under the banner of combating piracy and theft, these interests pushed through laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that made it harder to use computers in new and innovative ways. In response, the general public learned once-obscure terms like “fair use” and worked hard to defend their ability to discuss, create, and innovate. Unfortunately, this great public awakening came after Congress had already passed its restrictive laws.
Of course, computers were not the first time that incumbents welcomed new technologies by attempting to restrict them. The arrival of the printing press resulted in new censorship and licensing laws designed to slow the spread of information. The music industry claimed that home taping would destroy it. And, perhaps most memorably, the movie industry compared the VCR to the Boston Strangler preying on a woman home alone.
One of the goals of this whitepaper is to prepare the 3D printing community, and the public at large, before incumbents try to cripple 3D printing with restrictive intellectual property laws. By understanding how intellectual property law relates to 3D printing, and how changes might impact 3D printing’s future, this time we will be ready when incumbents come calling to Congress.