If you keep up with tech news regularly, you’re bound to be pretty excited about the ‘3D printer revolution’ – after all, how could you not be excited about something that allows you to print out a new egg cup and an inspirational bust of Steve Jobs for our desks? The prospect of having a 3D printer in the home has long seemed a pipedream for many but with the price of the technology dropping rapidly, it seems like it won’t be long before the 3D printer becomes a permanent fixture in many households.
However, the prospect of 3D printers being widely available hasn’t been exciting for everyone – in fact, for manufacturers and suppliers, it’s a pretty terrifying concept.
Why? Well, while it takes a few hours to print out a high quality 3D model at the moment, it’s only a matter of time before that time comes down to a few minutes. That’s minutes to print whatever you like – including patented and copyright products.
The nightmare scenario for product manufacturers is that people can create exact replicas of their products at a fraction of the cost from the comfort of their own home. It’s the same kind of scenario the entertainment industry has faced over the past decade or so with digital file sharing.
With this in mind, a patent for a copy protection system to prevent piracy using 3D printers was approved a couple of weeks ago. The patent details a system that checks that permission has been granted by to print a product before the actual printing commences. This would be done by checking for a license agreement from the original copyright holder or through evidence that a payment has been made for the product.
It’s an interesting development; on the one hand, no-one wants to see the kind of widespread piracy that has dogged the entertainment industry and it’s encouraging to see that considered steps are being made to prevent piracy before the technology is widespread rather than reactionary measures after the issue becomes widespread.
However, as the DRM measures introduced to protect the sharing of music have shown in the past, such technology can be extremely restrictive. Who remembers owning CDs that you couldn’t copy to your computer? Or albums you’d pay full price for, only to be able to copy them to a certain device three times?
Hopefully, the copyright measures introduced for 3D printing aren’t so restrictive as to discourage the development of the technology. While it’s perfectly reasonable to stop someone printing off their own Playstation 3, for example, where does the level of rights management end? Couldn’t almost everything not created from scratch be subject to a copyright claim?
It’s worth noting that 3D printer manufacturers aren’t bound by law to include this patented technology in their systems – yet. It’s hard not to believe that some form of the patent will become mandatory as 3D printers become more readily available, however.
The only thing that is really clear about 3D printing is that nothing is clear – but it’ll be interesting to see how things develop over the next couple of years.
Author bio: Chris Smith is writing specialising in a number of topics, with a particular passion for the latest technology. Chris is a regular contributor to the Cartridge World blog, covering the latest printing news, reviews and guides for one of the world’s largest retailers of cheap ink cartridges.