Like computing, the Internet and social networking, 3D printing is a disruptive innovation destined to challenge the market, technology and legal status quo. And, as with earlier disruptive innovations, legal skirmishes with consumer “early adopters” can point to where use of the new technology collides with the existing framework of intellectual property laws. In 3D printing, early consumer battles are happening within the context of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). Use of the DMCA to police rights in relationship to 3D printing presents challenges to both rights holders and “makers”—3D printing’s early consumer adopters.
3D Printing: IP Law Meets the Makers
So far, rights holders have effectively used takedown notices to police alleged consumer 3D printing copyright infringement. Recently, HBO sent a takedown notice to a maker site offering to sell a 3D-printed, smartphone charging dock shaped like the Iron Throne from HBO’s “Game of Thrones” TV series. After unsuccessfully seeking a license from HBO to make an Iron Throne-shaped charging dock (another company already has it), the maker took down a file containing instructions on how to print the dock at home and stopped offering it for sale. Similarly, Games Workshop (GW) issued a takedown notice to free 3D printing file-sharing website Thingsverse after it found designs for figurines based on those included in GW’s Warhammer game. The individual uploading the files did not protest the takedown but, at least in the blogsphere, the maker community did. A similar protest led one maker who hoped to sell plans to print an object based on the Penrose Triangle—a famous optical illusion--to retract a takedown notice sent to Thingsverse after another maker also figured out a print plan to make the object.