INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: Free Software Foundation V’s 3DPrinting Copyright?

Our recent articles regarding the a new patent from Intellectual Ventures that attempts to assert ownership of DRM for 3DPrinting raises a plethora of validation issues, concerns, positive applications and negative speculations.

Technology Review’s explanation of how things would work:

“You load a file into your printer, then your printer checks to make sure it has the rights to make the object, to make it out of what material, how many times, and so on,” says Michael Weinberg, a staff lawyer at the nonprofit Public Knowledge, who reviewed the patent at the request of Technology Review. “It’s a very broad patent.”

It’s perhaps an obvious approach, which most engineers or designers could, and doubntless have, conceived. Leaving aside this familiar problem with the patent system, there’s an important expostulation that does not arise in the above exposition – that the printer has the power to disregard the users instructions: to refuse to print the object that you wish, because of the DRM in the file describing it, or there is no DRM at all.

This parallels the situation for computers, where DRM is based on the assumption that your computer is not fully under your control, and has the ability to ignore your commands. That’s one of the reasons why free software is so important: it is predicated on the idea that the user is always in control.

Against the background of the new 3DPrinting patent, this announcement from the Free Software Foundation (FSF) that it has recently certified a 3DPrinter made by Aleph Objects as “respecting the user’s freedom”, takes on a particular significance:

‘The Free Software Foundation (FSF) today awarded its first Respects Your Freedom (RYF) certification to the LulzBot AO-100 3D Printer sold by Aleph Objects, Inc. The RYF certification mark means that the product meets the FSF’s standards in regard to users’ freedom, control over the product, and privacy.’

The FSF’s criteria for making the award:

‘The desire to own a computer or device and have full control over it, to know that you are not being spied on or tracked, to run any software you wish without asking permission, and to share with friends without worrying about Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) – these are the desires of millions of people who care about the future of technology and our society. Unfortunately, hardware manufacturers have until now relied on close cooperation with proprietary software companies that demanded control over their users. As citizens and their customers, we need to promote our desires for a new class of hardware – hardware that anyone can support because it respects your freedom.’

That is, in making the award, the FSF has established that the LulzBot remains fully under the user’s control.

Until now, that hasn’t been an issue – there’s no practical way to stop someone from simply downloading a file and then printing it out on a compatible 3DPrinter. But the patent from Intellectual Ventures is the first step towards a time when users of 3DPrinters will be confronted with issues of control in exactly the same way that computer users are today.
Once 3DPrinting becomes more widespread, we can certainly expect pressure from manufacturers to bring in laws against unauthorized copying of physical objects and circumvention of 3D DRM schemes, just as the copyright industries have pushed for ever-harsher laws against file sharing.

They may even try to get open hardware systems like the LulzBot made illegal on the grounds that the user is fully in control – just as large multi-media companies would doubtless love to make computers running free software illegal?

That’s a battle they lost, largely because free software existed long before digital media files were sold to consumers.

We may not be so lucky next time…
Expanded from:

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: