Clive Thompson decided to have a little fun with his kid’s Warhammer 40k figures, redesigning them and then printing his designs on his nifty 3-D printer. After sharing his designs on the web, he got sued for copyright infringement. As 3-D printers go down in price (and they are already only about $1000 now), I think this is going to be a big issue. How are silverware companies supposed to make revenue if you can download a spork design and print it for free? It’s the piracy issue all over again, except with physical objects. Luckily, unlike creative copyright, patent copyright expires after 20 years..Legos anybody?
What 3-D printing hobbyists mostly have to watch out for, Weinberg argues, is copying artistic patterns or designs on an object. That violates copyright. But if you stick to reproducing or modeling the basic physical nature of something—particularly if you’re rejiggering a physical concept into a new form—you’re probably safe. (Indeed, Weinberg isn’t even sure Valenty infringed on Warhammer’s copyrighted designs, because Games Workshop is accusing him of creating figurines in the style of the game, and you can’t copyright style.)
So really, the longer-term danger here is that manufacturers will decide the laws aren’t powerful enough. Once kids start merrily copying toys, manufacturers will push to hobble 3-D printing with laws similar to the Stop Online Piracy Act. “You’ll have people going to Washington and saying we need new rights,” Weinberg frets. Imagine laws that keep 3-D printers from outputting anything but objects “authorized” by megacorporations—DRM for the physical world.