Taking enforcement to the next dimension

Get ready for the next avalanche in copyright infringement lawsuits:  3D printing!

[L]ast week, Ulrich Schwanitz figured out how to print the “impossible” Penrose Triangle,” a well-known optical illusion. He released a video of the shape and challenged others to see how it might have been done. 3D modeller Artur Tchoukanov promptly figured it out, designed a 3D shape that accomplished the same thing, and uploaded his shape’s specifications to Thingiverse, a repository for 3D designs….Schwanitz sent Thingiverse a DMCA notice — essentially, a threat to name Thinigverse as a party in any copyright lawsuit against Tchoukanov unless Thingiverse took the shape down immediately.Whereupon Schwanitz became the inventor of something much more substantial than a 3D Penrose Triangle — he became the inventor of copyright threats over open 3D repositories. A weekend’s worth of acrimony followed — with lots of speculation about the copyrightability of Schwanitz’s design and questions about whether Tchoukanov was guilty of violating any copyright that vested in the design, and further questions about the ethics of copying designs and the ethics of sending copyright threats to Thingiverse.

As Cory Doctorow later notes in his BoingBoing post, Schwanitz has withdrawn his litigation threat, but legal wrangling of this new, third-dimensional sort is certainly not going to stop anytime soon:

[A]ggrieved optical illusion creators don’t have anything like the political and legislative clout of other potential 3D printing complexifiers. Imagine what happens when some magistrate in Alabama decides that Thingiverse is liable for hosting 3D models of sex toys (illegal in AL) and issues a bench warrant for Bre Pettis’s arrest. Or when someone from Shapeways shows up at CES in Vegas, only to discover that the state Drug Enforcement Agency has issued a warrant on the basis of a bong design available at Shapeways, violating the state’s strict anti-drug-paraphenalia laws. Or someone from i.materialise gets an EU extradition request from Germany because someone’s printed a detailed, historically accurate toy soldier with a swastika armband, violating Germany’s strict laws against Nazi paraphernalia.

And just wait until someone creates a printer that can reproduce patented pharmaceutical compounds or Monsanto’s patented life-forms! Now there are a couple of villains with a lot of resources to throw at making the whole Internet’s life miserable in order to squeeze an extra 0.05% into the quarter’s bottom line.

As the Economist’s cover study just two weeks ago indicates, the 3D printer world is already here.  As that report suggested,

Good ideas can be copied even more rapidly with 3D printing, so battles over intellectual property may become even more intense. It will be easier for imitators as well as innovators to get goods to market fast. Competitive advantages may thus be shorter-lived than ever before.