3D Printers are gathering momentum, with newer and significantly less expensive models arriving all the time. The promise of being able to “print” anything physical brings with it a new frontier: What’s acceptable in terms of copyright and fair use?
Wired reports on the case of Thomas Valenty, who purchased himself a MakerBot late last year. Thomas’ brother is a big fan of Games Workshop’s Warhammer, and if you’ve ever dipped your head into the world of fantasy miniatures, you’ll know that those things aren’t exactly cheap.
Valenty spent a week designing some Warhammer figures — a two legged war mecha and a tank — and while the article doesn’t outright say it, it seems that he used Games Workshop’s designs as, at least, a reference. Valenty spent a week putting the designs together before putting them up on Thingiverse, where they proved very popular.
Enter the lawyers, who issued Valenty with a takedown notice based on the DCMA. Thingiverse removed the object files, because it was (legally) obliged to.
It’s an interesting case. As the Wired article notes, this kind of reproduction could actually be legal, as long as you’re simply working off the physical representation of a product, rather than specific artistic patterns, especially if you’re only producing part of a work. Most physical objects should fall under patent law rather than copyright, and patents both expire and usually cover the entire assembled work. Although that’s US law — and I’m not a lawyer. There is part of me that recognises that if I design and build a physical object at my cost, I should probably have some “ownership” of the design too.