Tuesday, 10 September 2013

3D printing is becoming more tangible and so are its copyright problems

3D printing, like many emerging technologies, is a great opportunity slowly finding a myriad of problems to solve. The decreasing costs and increasing quality of 3D printers, driven by groups ranging from Makerbot and Formlabs down to Maplin’s budget Velleman K8200, has meant that the hardware is becoming increasingly accessible. Companies such as UPS are also increasingly focusing on making 3D printing accessible through their network of locations, negating the need for hardware investment. Meanwhile websites such as Thingiverse and technology such as 3D digitizers and extrapolation technology are creating more and more things of which to print and innovators are creating the amazing and the worrying. With operating system support coming in version 8.1 of Windows 8 and brands such as DVV, Amazon, Nokia
and others expanding the way the technology is used, 3D printing looks poised to move further from industry buzz word to tangible results.

Even as just a buzz word within the industry, 3D printing has long been attractive based on the wealth of opportunities it provides from rapid prototyping, to personalizing items, large scale building projects and even medical applications. The sell of getting a 3D printer is equally attractive to consumers, get one and you can begin to literally make anything you can print. At first look, 3D printing becomes attractive as a way to get involved in an upcoming Napster of things, harkening back to the early 2000’s bonanza of music and file sharing that changed the industry and started copyright struggles that are still on-going. To some, the cost of purchase could be offset in free goods alone.

However, the impact of file sharing in the 2000’s has changed the landscape 3D printing is developing in. After years of fighting file sharing, media owners are increasingly finding streaming as a solution to combating piracy, leveraging the convenience of getting content instantaneously over pirating it. So given the streaming opportunity, are the most popular providers of 3D printed content going to be the ‘Netflix’ of things over the ‘Napster’. The technology will always at its heart allow for open creation, but clashes are already occurring between mainstream copyright holders and 3d printing sites, such as with the Game of thrones iPhone dock in Australia.

Copyright is important in incentivizing creators to make things that can provide 3D printers value and while many sites will provide a base of objects, others are going to want a more closed solution. Established intellectual property holders such as TV and movie studios have learned lessons from music and movie sharing and may be apt to stem the same from happening in object design based around their properties. A startup called Authentise, funded by the X Prize foundation, looks to provide a copyright solution that provides convenience but maintains feasibility of ownership. In much the same way as Netflix, the company’s Sendshapes technology streams object data through a program to the printer, allowing for one off creation of a purchased object. The technology opens the opportunity for new business avenues, from one off object purchase to even a possible subscription based access model.

While technology such as Sendshapes will not eliminate copyright piracy in the developing field of 3D printing, previous learning from music and movies shows that it may be taking a step forward in leveraging convenience to preserve copyright.

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