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3D printer fight will put music, movie copyright wars in the shade - lawyer

Chris Keall
Wed, 18 Dec 2013

3D printers are moving toward the mainstream.

More so as Ricoh launches the popular US brand MakerBot into NZ, and other models on the international market sub-$1000 prices.

You can use modelling software to create a 3D object, but there are also many plans freely available online.

And MakerBot's products like the MakerBot Digitizer3D scanner ($2195) take skill out of replication altogether. You can simply scan an object, and they system spits out a file you can print out to create a 3D replication.

The technology will only get cheaper and easier - and that means a big copyright fight ahead.

Will put music, movie fights in the shade
"The destruction of traditional distribution channels and the challenge to copyright that went along with that in various industries like music, film and publishing will be nothing compared to what happens when we can all downloading a parts file and stream it to a 3D printer," Lowndes Jordan Partner and intellectual property  specialist Rick Shera tells NBR.

"New Zealand copyright law may be particularly challenged by this since we have comparatively strong protection for industrially applied designs whether copied from the original 3D or from 2D drawings, so, people could breach copyright here using 3D printers to create copied items when they might not in other countries," he says.

Don't stifle Kiwi can-do
We should focus on issues such as quality and safety rather than use copyright to stifle these great new developments, Mr Shera says.

We might also find in doing so, it rekindles the traditional kiwi can-do DIY fix it attitude which is perhaps being lost as we focus on the digital world above all else.  Let’s hope that the traditional locked down response of large entrenched copyright holding organisations does not play out here and this is seen as an opportunity and not a threat."

Better way of protecting 3D designs
Chapman Tripp partner Justin Graham tells NBR, "3D printing is an example of another new technology to which copyright law will need to adapt and respond.  What the rise of 3D printing is likely to do is to throw into sharp relief the adequacy of the provisions of the Copyright Act relating to industrally applied copyright works."

What could happen as a result is that there may be a slight rejuvenation in the law of registered design, which is arguably a better way of protecting 3D designs than the broad brush approach of copyright law, he says.

"If 3D printing is seen to pose a serious economic threat to rights holders (which remains to be seen, but can't be discounted) it could also potentially stall developments towards a private copying exception for copyright law.

"Probably the only certainty is that there will be infringement claims and they may come under copyright law, design law, patent law, passing off, or even, with shapes being registrable, trade mark law."

Guns to Lego
Controversy over 3D printers hit headlines in May when a design for a one-shot plastic gun was placed on Mega. The file locker service took down the design, in accordance with its policy of removing illegal material.

But copyright spats are more likely to occur over everyday items, such as 3D printer owners printing off their own Lego, or a close-knockoff, or small businesses using it as a cheap way of creating replacement parts for appliances or any good with plastic components.

Yesterday, Ricoh NZ marketing manager Murray Clark told NBR companies could take steps to protect 3D files. For example, a company sending a 3D file for replication of a replacement part at a service centre could send the file to a specific 3D printer's IP address only.

Mr Clark notes that although they've only recently filtered into the consumer and small business markets, 3D printers are nothing new.

The technology has long been used in the commercial. MakerBot's parent company, Stratasys which bought MakerBot in June this year for $US403 million) is well established in New Zealand; you’ve just never heard of it because it focuses exclusively on the industrial market, without any controvesy.

Now we have to see how the technology fares in the hands of Joe Public, and how our lawmakers react.

Chris Keall
Wed, 18 Dec 2013
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3D printer fight will put music, movie copyright wars in the shade - lawyer