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"It Will Be Awesome if They Don't Screw it Up" Answered

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.


Podcasts and videos on 3d printing.

Gothic Cathedral play set.

BBC reportage.

Freedom of Creation (3d printing designers)


hopefully i'm really close to having access to a 3d printer at work *crosses fingers* (we should also be getting a 3d scanner, so, double awesome)

but for home use, yeah that's a huge kettle of fish, or at least will be once the printers get more sophisticated.


7 years ago

How long until a dishwasher manufacturer sues someone for measuring and printing out their own replacement for a $0.50 part they would charge $50 for an engineer to replace?

Cheap durable goods (washing machines, fridges, cars, etc.) are possible because the manufacturers make their money back on the spares/repairs stream. If this technology ultimately results in people being able to reproduce worn or broken parts for things cheaply, "If you can't take it apart you don't own it" might take on a new dimension.

We've already seen software and digital media go from ownership to "licensing"- the company sells you a license to operate their software on your computer as long as you don't do anything naughty to it. How long until you need a license from Hotpoint to do your laundry? How long until dishwasher industry goons (and the FBI, see iPhone 4 prototype) bust into someone's home because he was illictly providing replacements for those little wheels on the side of the wire rack?

What they *should* do is have something similar to an iTunes store (iParts?), where manufacturers can let people download files for parts at just a few pennies - lots of people would pay such a low fee to avoid going to the trouble of making a mistake with the measurements and causing further damage.

... and then you can only print out your iParts on an exclusive glossy white printer with only one big button that costs twice as much as competing products :P

Actually, that's not an entirely frivolous point- a big name like Apple putting all the requisite tech in one single package would probably do as much to make 3D printing ubiquitous as the iPod/iTunes combo did for MP3 players and podcasting. Go to a manufacturer's website, find your device model number, pick the part from a parts directory, download to your iFixThings printer, put in the right ink plastic cartridge and hit Print.

Then we'd presumably see the equivalent of this, but refilling your 3D printer with milk bottles you've put through a coffee grinder :)

Given the terrible precedents the article points out, I think it's all but inevitable that the same will happen with 3D printing. Won't be legal to sell anything you print, won't be legal to print anything but a design you made yourself, etc etc.

It's very sad.

Maybe they could put them in libraries?

3d printers? In libraries?

That would be kind of cool, actually.

Yeah, you could bring in your CAD files on a USB drive and Plug and Print; Though I could understand a small fee for use of materials... Maybe $1 or $2?

It would probably cost more than that, but as a resource for low-resolution proving copies...

Nothing innovative; only the standard "lobby the decision-makers and inform the public" ways (which the article is, admirably, getting a jump on).

Hopefully, it's working with Net Neutrality here in the US, but I'm not very optimistic about the odds of victory against big-business interest groups on these issues. Just too much money, influence, and nepotism/incestuous relationships between the two.

Yeah, this is really starting to sound familiar >__<