As 3D printing continues to attract interest, investment and participation from a wide variety of stakeholders, attorneys are attempting to sort out the short- and long-term legal implications of this emerging technology's rapid growth. Although the current industry landscape remains a bit unsettled for innovators, it's clear to most that issues of copyright management will soon rise to the fore.
Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, essentially involves creating a solid three-dimensional object from component materials that are digitally designed, physically printed and successively layered on top of one another. According to VentureBeat, a complex ecosystem of hardware suppliers, online design libraries and on-demand printing services has already emerged in support of the technology. However, the one glaring absence is a legal precedent for sorting out potential copyright disputes between such parties.
According to ReadWrite, one recent case that could further the conversation involves a cease-and-desist letter recently delivered from HBO producers to one TV fan who was 3D printing smartphone accessories inspired by themes from his favorite show. The network took exception to this commercialization, citing its ownership of the stories, characters and even certain inanimate objects that appear in the program.
The key distinction which could make 3D printing copyright issues so complex is that objects designed for specific productive uses, rather than purely aesthetic enjoyment, do not typically fall under the scope of copyright laws.