Speaking at It’s Nice That: In Progress conference last Friday, technology journalist Adrian Mars addressed questions of liability, safety and intellectual property rights. “What if you 3D print a car and somebody and it causes an accident due to a design fault or a computer design fault?” Mars questioned, referring to the number of legal challenges 3D printing technology is facing.
In 2011, Dutch designer Ulirich Schwanitz created a file to print a 3D version of a Penrose Triangle, a graphic optical illusion. Following that, another designer, Artur Tchoukanov, worked out how the object was created and uploaded his file to Thingiverse. Claiming that his intellectual property had been violated under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DCMA), Schwanitz issued a take-down request. The request was later rescinded but the case showed the dangers and unresolved legal issues accompanying the 3D printing industry.
In October this year, the first US patent was issued for preventing unauthorized 3d reproducing of protected files. It is a type of DRM software that checks if you’re authorized to print a file.
“You could have a printer that refuses to print, just like a music player refuses to play, if the digital rights don’t say that you’ve paid for it,” said Mars.
Whether the future of 3d printing will bring models with watermarks, just like those on digital photos, or the information of patents will be an element in the hide-and-seek design game introduced by these legal issues, it remains to be seen.