Industries that would almost certainly be put out of business by 3DPrinting, were it to become a household norm, are not going to go down without a fight, say legal experts. And what will be their weapon of choice? 

Intellectual property laws…

The presumed fear is that people will eventually be able to download CAD files, or create their own with advanced 3DScanners, of anything in the world: shoes, televisions, guitars, iPhones, and on, and on. Yes, 3DPrinter users would likely have to create these object piece-by-piece (as is currently the case). But in the end, they would still have a complete product. So just as the movie and music industries have gone after bit-torrent files and the sites that share them in their war against online piracy, so too will manufacturers attack CAD files and CAD file sharing, experts watching the space believe.


As incumbent companies begin to see small-scale 3DPrinting as a threat, they will inevitably attempt to restrict it by expanding intellectual property protections



wrote Michael Weinberg, a staff lawyer for Public Knowledge, in a recently published white paper on 3DPrinting. “In doing so they will point to easily understood injuries to existing business models such as lost sales, lower profits, and reduced employment.”

Prepare for battle?

This is a cycle we’ve seen before. Weinberg notes that “incumbent companies” put up similar fights against the printing press, photo copiers, VCRs, and even the personal computer. In the case of the PC, writes Weinberg:

these interests pushed through laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that made it harder to usecomputers in new and innovative ways.”

The challenge for the fledgling 3DPrinting industry is to understand “how intellectual property law relates to 3DPrinting, and how changes might impact 3DPrinting’s future,” so that it will be ready to fight “before incumbents try to cripple 3DPrinting with restrictive intellectual property laws.”

While patent and trademark law may be used by established industries to trample 3DPrinting, both have a number of limitations that will make them difficult to use against home 3DPrinting, explains Weinberg. Instead, threatened industries will likely seek to strengthen copyright laws to make the recreation of objects — or even the creation of objects that perform the same function as a copyrighted item — illegal.

“Useful objects could be protected for decades after creation. Mechanical and functional innovation could be frozen by fears of massive copyright infringement lawsuits,” warns Weingberg. “Furthermore, articles that the public is free to recreate and improve upon today would become subject to inaccessible and restrictive licensing agreements.”


At the very least, says Weinberg, “rightsholders could insist that, in order to avoid liability, 3DPrinter manufacturers incorporate restrictive DRM that would prevent their printers from reproducing CAD designs with ‘do not copy’ watermarks.”


What next?

As mentioned, the goal of Weinberg’s paper is to prepare the 3DPrinting industry and its customers for a coming legal battle over this emerging technology. For the moment, however, 3DPrinting remains a niche.


If Weinberg is right, so-called incumbent companies will flex whatever muscles they can to stop that day from ever arriving…

Read more:


INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: 3DPrinting Sector Update >


Further to the tide of concern to Terms of Service on MakerBot’s opensource design storage of 3DPrintables ‘Thingiverse,’  a rundown of Intellectual Property on popular 3DPrint services:

123D Catch

For those of who you do not know, 123D Catch is an Autodesk photogrammetry application (consisting of a client application, whether on a desktop, phone or otherwise) and a web service for the creation of 3D models from uploaded photographs. It is the content capture piece of the 123D product family, descriptions of which can be found here:

The terms of service can be found here: (last updated July 26th, 2012). Other terms of service are incorporated by reference into this agreement. They can be found here:

The site provides for a “Gallery” function where people can upload and share models (see: as well as connect to various fabrication services (i.e., currently laser cutting and 3D printing). iMaterialise, Ponoko, and Shapeways, among others, are listed as partners.

The terms of service applicable to (the location of the cloud service that provides support for 123D Catch and other Autodesk applications) incorporate a CCL (Creative Commons License) model for content shared amongst users but which differs when defining Autodesk’s rights. Section 3 (“Your Content”) outlines the allocation of IP rights in the service. It generally provides that if you agree to upload content to a public area of the service, you are allowing Autodesk to use that uploaded content for whatever purpose they desire (commercial, non-commercial, or otherwise). See specifically Section 3(b)(i). This section also provides that by uploading the content you warrant that you have all rights to do so.

Section 3(b)(ii) outlines the rights granted to other users of the service (and not to Autodesk) and provides that if you upload content to a public area of the site, you have agreed to grant other users of the service the right to re-distribute, re-use, modify, adapt, create derivative works, etc. for non-commercial purposes based on your uploaded publicly shared content in a manner that is consistent with the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike License (see:

It’s interesting that Autodesk reserves the right to make commercial use of uploaded “public” content but restricts use to “non-commercial” purposes by other users’ (by incorporation of the CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) license schemes.


Kraftwurx positions itself as “the Original community & marketplace for quality custom products, printed in 3D.” Kraftwurx is based in Houston, Texas, and the company’s vision “is to empower consumers for mass customization by 3DPrinting anything they could imagine.” Kraftwurx describes itself as both a “marketplace and community.”

The Kraftwurx terms can be found here under the heading “Non-Exclusive License”: as well as here: defining terms of service.

According to the Terms of Service (ToS), by uploading content to Kraftwurx you agree that it does not violate the intellectual property rights of third parties. Per the Terms of Service, under the heading of “Content,” while Kraftwurx disclaims ownership rights of uploaded content, Kraftwurx claims a broad license grant to uploaded content, without restriction to commercial or non-commercial purposes and in perpetuity.

The allocation of rights in the “Non-Exclusive License” relating to “Designs” is inconsistent with those in the ToS.  Here, under the section titled “Licenses,” Kraftwurx claims a license to publicly display, market, etc. the user-submitted designs for the purposes of creating products, and the user has the right to remove the design at any time (provided that Kraftwurx can continue to use it for marketing or other purposes, just not production). The applicable Royalty Rate can be set by the User (either as a % or a fixed dollar amount)

Under the section titled “Representations” at the very end of the “Non-Exclusive License,” a user must represent among other things that: (a) he/she owns the design or it is in the public domain; (b) no one else claims ownership in the design (knowledge qualified); (c) the design doesn’t infringe on the moral, privacy or other rights of third parties; and (d) Kraftwurx can produce physical representations of the design without infringing on the rights of third parties or requiring permission to do so.

Finally, Kraftwurx has a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notice here – Note that the DMCA, or safe harbors, would also apply to 3DPrinting service providers.

3D Warehouse, Trimble (was Google)

In April 2012 Trimble purchased the SketchUp business from Google – including the 3D Warehouse – along with a curious allocation of rights to content that had already been submitted (with a closing that apparently happened on or about June 1st, 2012).  See: Continuing use and access to the 3D Warehouse will now be governed by Trimble’s terms, a preliminary set of which were linked through in the “User Notice” referenced above. However, the link resolves to an old set of Google 3D Warehouse terms (which are unchanged), see:


Ponoko has clearly thought through the implications of IP on the capture or create/modify/make ecosystem with a very clear and explicit licensing scheme.


Section 4 of their terms of service still provides that uploaded content may still only be used for “non-commercial” purposes – obviously a significant limitation if the user/contributor is looking to use or submit content as part of a commercial or fee-paying project.

Cubify, 3D Systems

Since the last review, 3D Systems has modified, cleaned up and tweaked the Cubify landing pages. When previously reviewed, Cubify was in the process of launching. The Cubify terms of service can now be found

Substantively the terms are similar as before. Cubify will allow for the download of hosted models under several license types, see Section 6 of the Terms of Service, specifically Sections 5(d), (e), and (f).  These are a “standard royalty free license,” “editorial license only” and “royalty free license with model release.” In Section 6(7) 3D Systems disclaims IP responsibility for uploaded content and content delivered from third-party services and sources.

Section 7 now specifically covers Intellectual Property. Section 7(1) requires that a user only upload content that it owns the rights to (and agrees not to upload content that might be subject to third-party claims). Section 7(2) outlines rights granted to 3D Systems in order to display, market and ultimately produce content that has been uploaded, and it also grants third parties the right to view the content (in order to make a purchase decision, for example). Section 7(3) provides that if a user downloads and uses content from the site, they are SOLEY responsible for any intellectual property and other legal or clearance issues – 3D Systems does not represent that the content hosted has been fully cleared or is moral/legal to produce in the jurisdiction of the person who downloads it.

To be able to become a contributor, a user must become a “Cubify Artist,” see:


See previous article on Thingiverse TOS changes.

Related articles:




Over the past week the 3DPrinting community has felt the emerging impact of what could be a full evolutionary shift, a divisive decision, or a simple misinterpretation of far from simple legal jargon…


The name ‘MakerBot’ is currently synonymous with 3DPrinter as much as ”RepRap.’ If neither of these names are of significance to the reader as yet, that would suggest that the reader is currently dipping their toe into the pleasantly warm waters of the world’s most hyped emerging technology – most hyped outside of a certain company who would doubtless craft an ‘iMaker’ or ‘iBot’ if it were swimming here too… As the iPhone 5 release was attracting attention on the level we are now accustomed,  MakerBot released the second version of their flagship Replicator 3DPrinter and the Twitter fraternity drown in a flood of #Replicator2 hashtags in due response.
What MakerBot also did was have to blog a response to a back lash of suggestions that they have stolen many tens of thousands of user created, opensource, 3DPrintable designs of ‘things’ (products) on their free hosting site This accompanied concern that their new design steps away from the revolutionary OpenSourcenature of home 3DPrinters that have evolved from RepRap designs back in 2008.These vital and very interesting issues have been emerging for some time now, pretty much as long as 3DPrinting has been attracting hype on a massive level.____________________________________________________________________

The timeline of apparent events:

  1. July 2010 – RepRap blog posting about the heated conveyor belt
  2. August 2011 – Makerbot Industries receives $10M venture capital funding. Applied for patent on heated conveyor belt.
  3. November 2011 – Makerbot Industries filed for a patent on a heated conveyor belt.
  4. February 2012 – New Terms Of Service on Thingiverse
  5. Thingiverse blog post about the TOS – only one commenter, “madscifi,” asked about the 3.2 attribution clause but wasn’t answered.
  6. July 2012 – Makerbot gets the patent. Their own design is highly flawed and no longer included in the next 2 generations
  7. September 2012 – Replicator II announced as a closed source design. 
  8. September 2012 – Blog posting about the Replicator II being closed source, later added TOS change by Josef Prusa (Twitter)
  9. Included “.thing” file format just a .zip of printable .stl and .obj files.
  10. “Occupy Thingiverse Test cube” posted on Thingiverse, more attention to TOS
  11. Josef Prusa Google+ posting
  12. Tony Buser (Makerbot Industries) posting on Google+ that the TOS didn’t chance in 8 month. 
  13. Thingiverse amke a blog post, clarifying that the TOS change was in February 
  14. Brainstorms appear regarding creating new alternatives to Thingiverse. (Thingiverse2Githubconverter, SKDB)
  15. More “occupy Thingiverse” objects popping up all the time.
  16. The story got slashdottet
  17. Blog posting by Makerbot Industries- They are “working out” just how open source they can make the Replicator II, lots about their intentions, no clear work about the specific TOS sentence. It looks like at least the software is just a thin, closed source UI that calls open source Skeinforge or their new (open source) “Miracle-Grue“.
  18. As a response the blog post by Josef Prusa gets updated. 
  19. Thingiverse replacement taking some shape in the comments of a G+ posting.
  20. Reaction of HoekenHackadayHacker News report on the issue, audience attention exponential – reports appear to suggest that the new closed-source software can be tricked into working with older MBI printer. 
The change in the Terms of Serice appears to be as followoing – previously they had a paragraph: “ does not claim ownership of the materials you post, upload, input or submit to the site.”The current TOS states a lot of granted rights but they are all limited to: “solely for the purposes of including your User Content in the Site and Services”.
What is interesting is the next sentence: “You agree to irrevocably waive (and cause to be  waived) any claims and assertions of moral rights or attribution with respect to your User Content.”
There appears to be no reference to this made in the february blog posting about the Terms Of Service. The recent blog posting reassures us that attribution is done, but still doesn’t explain why the user has to agree with this when uploading a design.Moral rights in the US are separate from copyright and thus not affected by Creative Commons – but why would one waive any but the “right to the integrity of the work”? A read of the definition over at Wikipedia tells us that the move could actually be a good thing, Thingiverse may be attempting to cover the backs of their users, and themselves, as much as possible:
“Moral rights are rights of creators of copyrighted works generally recognized in civil law jurisdictions and, to a lesser extent, in some common law jurisdictions. They include the right of attribution, the right to have a work published anonymously or pseudonymously, and the right to the integrity of the work.
The preserving of the integrity of the work bars the work from alteration, distortion, or mutilation. Anything else that may detract from the artist’s relationship with the work even after it leaves the artist’s possession or ownership may bring these moral rights into play.Moral rights are distinct from any economic rights tied to copyrights. Even if an artist has assigned his or her copyright rights to a work to a third party, he or she still maintains the moral rights to the work.”
The latest MBI blog posting states that they are working out “how open source” they can make the Replicator 2. What has currently not been clarified is the Thingiverse TOS sentence about waiving attribution…


Here is the response to this development by Zaxhary Smith, one of the Founders of MakerBot and a big name in the 3DPrinting sector:

My name is Zachary Smith, aka Hoeken.I have been building 3D printers since 2007 as part of the RepRap project. I created a non-profit foundation (the RRRF) dedicated to pushing open source 3D printing forward. In 2009, I invited my friends Adam Mayer and Bre Pettis to go into business with me building 3D printers.Thus, MakerBot Industries was born.Fast forward to April, 2012 when I was forced out of the very same company. As a result, I have zero transparency into the internal workings of the company that I founded. See this article by Chris Thompson for more infomation.I do not support any move that restricts the open nature of the MakerBot hardware, electronics, software, firmware, or other open projects. MakerBot was built on a foundation of open hardware projects such as RepRap and Arduino, as well as using many open software projects for development of our own software.

I have been withholding judgement until hearing official word regarding the open source nature of the latest MakerBot printer. I’m trying to contact people to find out what the real scoop is but so far nobody is talking, and my ex-partners are not returning phone calls or emails. It certainly doesn’t look good.

Not only would it be a loss of a large Open Hardware manufacturer, but it would also be a loss of a poster child for the movement. Many people have pointed at MakerBot and said “Yes, OSHW is viable as a business model, look at how successful MakerBot is.” If they close those doors, then it would give people who would say OSHW is not sustainable ammunition for their arguments. It would also discourage new OSHW companies from forming. That is a sad thing indeed.

For me, personally, I look at a move to closed source as the ultimate betrayal. When I was forced out, it was a normal, if unfortunate, clash of wills where one person must stay and one person must go.

I swallowed my ego and left, because I knew that the company I founded would carry my ideals further into the world.

Regardless of our differences, I had assumed that Bre would continue to follow the principles that we founded the company on, and the same principles that played a major part in the success of our company.

Moving from an open model to a closed model is contrary to everything that I stand for, and as a co-founder of MakerBot Industries, it makes me ashamed to have my name associated with it.

Bre Pettis, please prove me wrong by clarifying exactly what license MakerBot will be releasing the design files and software under.  That is all we (the community) wants.

In closing, I would like to point out the Open Source Hardware Definition




Open source hardware is hardware whose design is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design or hardware based on that design.

The hardware’s source, the design from which it is made, is available in the preferred format for making modifications to it.

Ideally, open source hardware uses readily-available components and materials, standard processes, open infrastructure, unrestricted content, and open-source design tools to maximize the ability of individuals to make and use hardware.

Open source hardware gives people the freedom to control their technology while sharing knowledge and encouraging commerce through the open exchange of designs.’…



Is the MakerBot Replicator 2 Open Source?

‘We’re working that out and we are going to be as open as we possibly can while building a sustainable business. We are going to continue to respect licenses and continue to contribute to the open technology of 3D printing, some of which we initiated. We don’t want to abuse the goodwill and support of our community. We love what we do, we love sharing, and we love what our community creates. I believe strongly that businesses that share will be the winners of tomorrow and I don’t think that’s a secret. Even companies like Google and IBM are embracing open source and finding new ways to share these days.

I’m looking forward to having conversations with folks at the Open Hardware Summit to talk about how MakerBot can share as much as possible, support it’s 150 employees with jobs, make awesome hardware, and be sustainable. Will we have to experiment to make this happen? Yes, and it’s going to take a lot of collaboration, cooperation, and understanding.

I wish there were more examples of large, successful open hardware companies.

From a business perspective, we’ve been absurdly open, more open than any other business I know. There are no models or companies that I know of that have more than 150 employees that are more open. (Would love to be wrong, but I don’t think I am.) We are experimenting so that we can be as open as possible and still have a business at the end of the day.

Will we be successful? I hope so, but even if we are not, everyone will find out that either being as open as possible is a good thing for business or that nobody should do it, or something in between. I personally hope that we succeed, not just because I love what people make with MakerBots and I love the employees that make these machines but because I believe that MakerBot as a business can create a new model for businesses to learn from.

I don’t plan on letting the vulnerabilities of being open hardware destroy what we’ve created.’

Did Thingiverse terms of use change to “steal” people’s things.

Thingiverse does not steal.

We created Thingiverse to be the greatest place to share things using open licenses.

The terms, that we set up in February of this year, allow us to share your designs on our website and protect us from companies with lawyers.

Could we make that more user friendly? Yes, but lawyers cost money and making it simple for people to understand will cost many hours of lawyer time.

I’ve put it on our todo list for 2013 to make the terms easier to understand and avoid misunderstandings. If you’re concerned about this make sure to read the post that I wrote earlier this year about the terms of use on Thingiverse.’…


3DPrinting & Copyright: Future War? >


The next great technological disruption is fermenting away, out of sight, in garage workshops, college labs, and basements. Hobbists with machines that turn binarys into molecules are pioneering a new way of making, everything. One that could well rewrite the rules of making and manufacturing, in much the same way as the PC revolutionised the world of computing… and the world.

The machines, called 3DPrinters, have existed in industry for years. But at a cost of $100,000, few individuals could ever afford one.  But, as with all technology, their price has fallen – industrial 3DPrinters can now purchased for $15,000. Home versions for little more than $1,000, or half that in kit form…

“In many ways, today’s 3DPrinting community resembles the personal computing community of the early 1990s,”
– Michael Weinberg, a staff lawyer at Public Knowledge

As an expert on intellectual property, Mr Weinberg has produced a white paper that documents the likely course of 3DPrinting’s development – and how the technology could be affected by patent and copyright law.

He is far from certain about its potential. His main fear is that the fledgling technology could have its wings clipped by traditional manufacturers, who will doubtless view it as a threat to their livelihoods, and do all in their powers to nobble it. Because of a 3DPrinter’s ability to make perfect replicas, they will probably try to brand it’s produce piracy to protect their brand.

But while the pirates’ labour rates and material costs may be far lower, the tools they use to make fakes are essentially the same as those used by the original manufacturers. Equipment costs alone have thus limited counterfeiting industry growth… but given a cheap 3DPrinter coupled to a laser scanner, and pirated goods may indeed proliferate.

Intellectual property is unconcerned with the 3DPrinter itself, but before it can manufacture, it needs a file of the object to be produced, along with specialised software to tell the printer how to lay down the successive layers of material, designed on a computer using CAD software, or downloaded from open-source archives.

But many may be copied from an existing product, using a scanner that records the 3D measurements from various angles and turns that data into a CAD file. This is where claims of infringement start, unless the object is in the public domain, copyright law could well apply. This has caught out a number of unwitting users of 3DPrinters who have made reproductions of existing products.

Earlier this year, for instance, one hobbyist worked out how to print the popular “Penrose Triangle”, an optical illusion that cannot exist in normal three-dimensional Euclidean space, and released a video challenging others to say how it was done.

Another 3D modeler not only figured it out but uploaded the CAD file of his own solution to Thingiverse. Whereupon the initial designer threatened Thingiverse with legal action under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998.

The issue was only resolved when it was pointed out that someone else actually invented the Penrose Triangle (a Swedish artist in the 1930s), and the optical illusion itself could be considered a useful object—and therefore did not qualify for copyright protection which covers only non-functioning intangibles such as pictures, philharmony and prose.

The designer subsequently dropped the copy-write case and dedicated the rights to the community. There are now five versions of the Penrose Triangle on Thingiverse.

Manufacturers are likely to behave much like the record industry did when its own business model – based on selling expensive albums that few music fans actually wanted, instead of the cheap single tracks they saught – came under attack from file-swapping technology and MP3 software: embrace copyright, rather than patent, law, because many of their patents will have expired.

Patents apply for only 20 years while copyright continues for 70 years after the creator’s death.

So expect manufacturers to lobby for their own form of DMCA, with copyright protection expanded to cover functional objects that contain elements of design. “This would create a type of quasi-patent system, without the requirement for novelty or the strictly limited period of protection,” says Mr Weinberg.

The biggest lesson the record industry learned from its copyright battles with file-swappers was that going after individual infringers was prohibitively expensive and time consuming. Instead, the record companies lobbied to get copyright liability extended to cover not only individuals who infringe, but also those who ‘facilitate infringement…’  Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the file-swapping websites themselves.

The record industry was very successful. Today, websites and ISPs have to block or remove infringing material whenever they receive a DMCA takedown notice.

Google reckons that more than a third of the DMCA notices it has received over the years have turned out to be bogus copyright claims.

Over a half were from companies trying to restrict competing businesses rather than law-breakers.

Under the banner of piracy, established manufacturers could likewise seek to get the doctrine of “contributory infringement” included in some expanded object-copyright law, as a way of decimating the home manufacturing movement early in it’s development.

Being free to sue websites that host 3D design files as “havens of piracy” would save them the time and money of having to prosecute thousands of individuals with a 3DPrinter churning out copies at home.

“You’ll have people going to Washington and saying we need new rights,” Weinberg frets. Laws that keep 3D printers from outputting anything but objects “authorised” by megacorporations – DRM for the physical world. To stave this off, Weinberg is trying to educate legislators now.

Lets hope he is successful. After all, 3D printers aren’t just about copying. They’re a powerful new tool for experimenting with the design of the physical world, for thinking, for generating new culture, for stretching our imaginations.

Today’s 3DPrinting community needs to keep a keen eye on such policy debates as they grow.

“There will be a time when impacted legacy industries demand some sort of DMCA for 3DPrinting,” says Mr Weinberg.

Adapted from: