The 3D printing world has recently had piracy on the mind, and for good reason.
In Brad Howarth’s January article, 3D printing: saviour or piracy tool? , sets out the argument that 3D printing technology jeopardizes the intellectual property rights of high and low end brands and discusses what can or should be done about that.
But first let’s take a step back, since the discussion partly got started by a post of the pirate bay stating their intentions to become a 3D printing repository after Thingiverse paved the way.
From the pirate bay blog:
“We believe that the next step in copying will be made from digital form into physical form. It will be physical objects. Or as we decided to call them: Physibles. Data objects that are able (and feasible) to become physical. We believe that things like three dimensional printers, scanners and such are just the first step. We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare sparts for your vehicles. You will download your sneakers within 20 years.”
“The benefit to society is huge. No more shipping huge amount of products around the world. No more shipping the broken products back. No more child labour. We’ll be able to print food for hungry people. We’ll be able to share not only a recipe, but the full meal. We’ll be able to actually copy that floppy, if we needed one.”
Depending on your creed, this idea will seem ultra cool (albeit slightly inaccurate concerning food printing) or you will clinch in outright horror and contempt by the very notion of pirates in 3D printing world. Most multinational companies will fall into the latter part of this spectrum and with good reason. The current and most widespread company paradigm is centered on the cash cow principal. This means that a company makes a product, refines it and then unabashedly milks it until all creativity and originality has been sucked out of it, after that the company either has developed a new cash cow to start the process anew or realizes the shift of consumer taste too late and hastily struggles to change course.
Leaving ethics aside, this company model works well if the cost of entry to the market is high and/or if intellectual property rights are enforced. 3D printing has severely reduced the relevance of the first, off course not in all sectors of the market but then 3D printing shows no signs of stopping either. The latter has been maintain quite well until the pirates openly started mucking about. In a time where record and movie companies are still sour of the torrent phenomenon, and their grossly inadequate responds to it. Now product manufacturing companies feel the warm liquorish breath of the pirates, what to do? What to do?
In the later part Howard’s article shows us a way out of the 3D printing piracy problem, but not everybody is going to like it.
According to Bruce Arnold, a lecturer in the School of Law at the University of Canberra, the potential for object piracy is currently limited by the need for a skilled designer to copy the original object into a 3D model. While 3D scanning technology is in development, it will only enable a printer to create the appearance of an object, not its contents.
“For some purposes, appearance is everything; for other purposes functionality is really important,” Arnold said.
Just as with existing counterfeiting options, Arnold said that many consumers would still prefer to buy the original item. But for some designers, he said protection may be better achieved through instant prototyping and continuous product change rather than intellectual property law.
In other words, build your brand on continuous authentic creativity instead of copy right law suits based on cash cows. As I said, not everybody, especially multinationals are going to like this “option” and a litany of intellectual property law suits will undoubtedly rain from the skyscrapers but lets be real, has that stopped music and movie piracy, at all?
Innovation in big companies is a pain especially when it is thrust upon you, but it’s not like there are many other options available.
And the irony of it all is, that this push to become ‘authentic and continuously creativity’ did not come from a company executive nor from pleas from their customer base, but from those liquor smelling pirates.