3D printing laws can definitely get confusing when looking at selling prints or printing objects that have certain protections in law. When I thought about these laws myself, it was a task trying to find relevant 3D printing laws that were clear and about specific topics.
Because of this, I decided to write an article giving people an in-depth look into the laws and regulations that surround 3D printing, from copyright and trademarks, down to actually selling 3D prints to willing customers.
We’re going to take a close, hard look at the laws and regulations associated with 3D printing, and how they can potentially affect our approach towards printing and maneuvering the 3D printing space safely.
To begin with, it’s totally safe and legal to sell your 3D printed parts on e-commerce websites like eBay, Amazon, and Etsy. People are making a fair living offering their printing capabilities on different platforms.
Shapeways, for one, is a 3D printing marketplace where you could either upload your model for their professional service or design and sell one of your own.
The Financial Side of 3D Printing & Laws
Everyone’s trying to make a few extra bucks here and there. If you have a 3D printer at your disposal, why not cash in your work, and capitalize? The information about to follow will teach you how to sell your prints and services abiding all laws, and make a bit of a living.
An easy way to gain monetary benefits from your 3D printer is by selling your own prints or by offering to make prints with your 3D printer.
This is quite advantageous as many commercial businesses need the diverse uses of 3D printing, but aren’t able to do due to insufficient equipment.
There are several marketplaces out there dedicated to being a platform for 3D printing services. One such site is 3DHubs.
The registration process is fairly easy, and it’s a place where you can enlist your 3D printer as a service and start to receive orders from people around the world. Accordingly, you receive payments as well from there.
Moving on, there is i.materialise, a community that gives you the opportunity to present your prints and sell them. A bigger community and marketplace, on the other hand, is Shapeways, where resides a lot of talent eager to help developers get the design they want.
The Art of The Craft
Etsy is a great online website that’s concerned with the sale of handcrafted items where 3D printed items are treated with equal respect.
There’s a certain degree of excellence associated with well-crafted, articulate 3D prints, and Etsy entertains all this very nicely. Imagination and creativity tend to sell a lot these days, and with 3D printing running the show, the possibilities are endless.
Amazon and eBay
Amazon, one of the world’s leading online stores, has its very own specified category for 3D printing. There are top-grade designers like Mixee Labs and UCODO that offer unique customization, printing, and delivering services.
However, the competition on Amazon isn’t that high as compared to Etsy or eBay. It’s more concentrated on truly distinct standalone objects worthy of being listed on the store.
If you think you’ve created a piece of absolute awesomeness, try listing it on Amazon and see how it goes from there. The benefit here is if it sells superbly, it’s going to pop up in the “Users also viewed” and “Users also purchased” sections, generating more and more sales.
eBay is purely a general platform, and selling 3D printed parts and equipment on it is no exception in the flexibility of the e-commerce giant.
Given that you’ve made a part on your own, and you’re the sole owner having legitimate copyrights, eBay is the place to consider when selling your part.
A noteworthy point here is that a person may prefer buying a cheap 3D printed part for their child’s RC car instead of getting a new one. eBay is filled with options like these, making it a fantastic place to haul in some cash with your 3D printer.
Next, we’re diving deep in detail regarding laws concerning 3D printing so keep on reading for a more knowledgeable experience. The information about to follow will ensure that you don’t end up violating someone’s copyrights, and practice a safe code of conduct.
Laws Associated With 3D Printing
We’re going to break down the legal aspects of 3D printing and what poses a risk of inviting civil action, but before we get into that, let’s take a moment to first understand some basic concepts.
A patent protects a person’s invention by providing it with legal rights. This prevents anyone else to manufacture, sell, reproduce, duplicate, and even use the invented product that has been patented.
In light of 3D printing, if anyone were to use an object made by someone else, then this happening would fall under patent infringement.
Copyright at its core, is basically an owner’s right when he/she has made an object or produced a print. This provides the owner with full permission to customize, reproduce, showcase, and offer for sale of the copyrighted product.
A trademark is a symbolic representation that creates a difference between one individual from another. A trademark delivers exclusive rights to the trademark owner to represent their product or service in a distinguished manner.
To talk about the trademark itself, it can be anything from a couple of words, a logo, a unique shape to something truly unique.
Now that we know what can cause an issue, let’s move further into 3D printing laws.
Intellectual Property (IP)
Intellectual Property rights are to be strongly considered when one thinks about the legality and illegality of 3D printing.
Several marketplaces like Thingiverse and Shapeways as mentioned earlier are places where you could download 3D models and print them seamlessly. In addition, there are websites available that do all the work for you, such as create your or someone else’s prints.
However, all this gives rise to multiple complications that need be to dealt with in a precise manner.
A danger revolves around the possibility that your creations could be downloaded by anyone, and you wouldn’t even know about it. Furthermore, your design could be minimally altered and people could then claim it as their own.
This is where Creative Commons comes in. This is a collection of licenses that safeguard the inventions of designers and authors alike.
The licenses, although six in total, dictate whether someone could use your product for commercial use. An NC (non-commercial) license thereby, prohibits copying the original owner’s design and put it up for sale and distribution.
In 3D printing, what you need is a 3D printer and a design for your object. This essentially means that anyone with these two components at their disposal can duplicate any design, no matter if it’s the rightful property of someone else.
This would lead to the formation of a number of fake copies, endangering intellectual rights and copyrights.
The whole summary of it is, numerous 3D printed objects may be specified by the Intellectual Property (IP) rights being the sole ownership of another individual.
Thus, printing a 3D object covered by someone else’s rights may be liable to violation, leading to infringement of rights.
The catch here is to be careful, and being wary of the license associated with designs you find online, since attending to IP laws here and there can save you from unnecessary trouble.
The following is a descriptive overview of IP laws and 3D printing.
|Intellectual property right||Registration and Protection Period||Conditions for Protection||What is Protected?||What is Not Protected?|
|Copyright||No registration, protection until 70 years after the author’s death.||Originality (required level for this condition is rather low) Applies automatically if the object meets the originality criteria under applicable law.||Original, creative objects. A 3D CAD file written from scratch (not a 3D scan from an existing object) could potentially fall hereunder because of its technical drawings, diagrams and models. Derivative works (3D CAD can be a derivative work).||Specific materials used for the production. Shapes with a purely technical function, such as moulds for another object. In some countries useful objects may be excluded.|
|Software||Same as for copyright||A form of expression.||The expression of computer code (courts may limit the scope of such protection). Some might argue that a 3D CAD is a software but courts may not follow this view. The CAD file is not meant to be executed by the computer, but, instead, read by the computer.||The functionality of software.|
|Design Right (Registered)||Registration required for long-term protection, renewable every 5 years (maximum 25 years).||New appearance and individual character of the whole or part of an object towards the informed user (overall impression of dissimilarity to previously existing designs).||The external shape and features of the whole or part of the product (3D). Appearance of the materials.||Raw materials. Internal parts not visible during normal use. An object that is commonplace in the relevant technical field. Design features configured for mechanical connection to another product (most spare parts). Features dictated by technical function only. Computer programs.
|Design Right (Unregistered)||No registration|
protection during 3
years from the date
of disclosure, not
|Patent Right||Registration stops after the legal protection period expires.||New. Inventive. Industrially applicable. Licit.||The innovation and technology contained in the object. A CAD file that contains a plan for a patented item, certainly if cited in the patent claims.||Aesthetic layout.
In rare cases
accepted for the
shape of products.
|The use in trade of|
the trademark as
on the Internet.
|The private use of
because the user
will not be
the origin when
he adds the
Important Questions That Further Clarify 3D Printing Laws
Now that we have acquired more details regarding the legal aspects of 3D printing, let’s shed some light on some important questions that, as implied, further clarify the topic in question.
Can I get in trouble for printing, but not selling, a 3D printed object covered by Intellectual Property rights?
The answer to this purely varies. First off, the patent laws restrict anyone to sell or offer to sell any print falling under someone’s intellectual property. This also includes the case when you are not trying to sell the object as well.
The law also applies even if it wasn’t in your knowledge that the object was covered by a patent. On the other hand, however, if the patented item was not sold, damage recovery without any sales might be tremendously hard.
Additionally, any recoveries made will be quite negligible due to zero profit when sales aren’t happening.
When one comes to think of copyright issues here, the proceedings are identical.
The same case of infringement applies if you happen to copy someone’s copyrighted print no matter if you had known it or not. Again, however, trying to claim any damages in monetary terms will be pointless if there’s nothing that’s been sold.
It has to be strictly noted anyway that copyright infringement is a serious criminal offense if your intention is to purely replicate someone’s work, and put it up for commercial sale.
If I make a print based on a design I created purely by my own, am I violating anyone’s rights?
No, you are not. When you create a design on your own, you’re not infringing anyone’s patent or copyright. This is because for copyright violation to take effect, someone has to produce a total imitation that’s an exact copy of another person’s work.
However, it might be copyright infringement as well if you make a design that purposely imitates a design file or the final result of another person’s object.
The same situation follows for patent infringement. If you acknowledge that you’re printing an object that’s already covered by a patent, or you’re persuading others to do it, you might be indirectly held responsible for patent infringement.
The laws associated here give full authority to the patent owner to hold anyone accountable infringing their patent or encouraging people to infringe. For copyrights, the story is similar.
What if I lend someone my printer, and they use it for copyright infringement?
We understand how 3D printing has become a vast business, and renting or lending a printer nowadays is commonplace. However, there’s an alarming worry regarding the actions of the person who has taken the printer from the owner. Will the owner be held responsible if anything goes wrong? Yes, and no.
As the person who violates intellectual property rights, copyrights, or patent rights is not the one who owns the printer, but someone who had taken it for use, the law says that the person who performs infringement will be the one directly answering to the law.
The owner of the 3D printer will only be partially or indirectly accountable.
In history, providers of 3D printers to various people have not been held responsible by intellectual property laws, only in the case if they have not played a direct part in the act and encouraged IP infringement.
This boils down to the fact that 3D printers have a great many uses other than this improper operation.
3D Printing Concerns in Laws
Let’s have a look at some other 3D printing concerns that need to be known about.
3D Printing and Ethical Issues
The first ethical issue relating to 3D printing arises obviously in terms of piracy. This is what The Pirate Bay says about the matter:
We believe that the next step in copying will be made from digital form into physical form. It will be physical objects. Or as we decided to call them: Physibles. Data objects that are able (and feasible) to become physical. We believe that things like three dimensional printers, scanners and such are just the first step. We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare parts for your vehicles. You will download your sneakers within 20 years.
The discouraging scenario that would play out following this, can possibly disrupt technology providers and how they think about the matter.
Another major ethical concern relates to health. This happens when the technology of 3D printing is used to build and repair vital human organs. By assimilating cells in 3D printing, we’ll be able to replicate organs instantly.
Although insanely helpful and a breakthrough in medicine, the thought has its fair share of controversy.
It’s widely associated with the cloning of animals and humans, and the process itself is considered condemned and a taboo, thinking that only God should be able to produce parts of living human beings.
The Political Aspect
It’s duly written on the internet that the world of 3D printing and its political, economic, and social effects have not yet been studied nor explored in full.
The revolution 3D printing is going to bring along in the future is going to be huge.
If millions of people are able to use a 3D printer for themselves, and are actively capable of making, copying, and trading with everyday life materials, Greg Beato, an editor at Reason, writes that the outcome would be a heavy strike on the government.
This could lead to the semi-permanent closure of renowned physical stores, and what follows is explained in the following words:
Once the retail and manufacturing carnage starts to scale, the government carnage will soon follow. How can it not, when only old people pay sales tax, fewer citizens obtain their incomes from traditional easy-to-tax jobs, and large corporate taxpayers start folding like daily newspapers? Without big business, big government can’t function.
Illegal 3D Printing – What’s Not Allowed
So, as we have covered most of the legal and illegal sides of 3D printing, all the protective rights, and how to avoid infringement, let us now take a look at objects that are absolutely illegal to the core.
Printing Patented Objects
The first one is pretty obvious, considering we have already discussed the laws surrounding patents and what patent rights offer to the owner.
Without the proper permission, the original holder of the patent has the right to sue anyone using, duplicating, selling or trading their patent covered object. A case for patent infringement can be filed here, highlighting the illegality of the act.
Guns and Weapons
Although it’s not usually a problem if you’re printing guns personally for use and that too without a license of some sort, there are limitations that make guns and weapons illegal to print.
The restrictions are exercised only in those jurisdictions where printing assault weapons aren’t considered legal. You cannot print items of such categories at home unless you were looking for a criminal offense lately.
Cody Wilson, a guns-right activist, made his way on the news when he created blueprints of a plastic gun somehow, and published the methodology online. The file received more than 100,000 downloads before the law had to get rid of it.
What made the innovation so frightening was the fact that the gun, in its final form, would be undetectable.
It’s permissible to print guns as long as they can be detected by airport scanners and other scanning equipment, but can only begin to think of the possibilities when the wrong kind of people get their hands on the idea.
If you’re thinking of 3D printing a nuclear bomb, you might as well take a moment, assess your values, and set your mind straight. You cannot print a bomb at home, our deepest apologies.
The brilliance of 3D printing only demands a 3D printer and a design of what you need to print. However, not everything goes in the right direction from here.
A plethora of intellectual property rights of people have been endangered by the printing of counterfeit items. This includes handheld devices, bags, laptops, and even cash. There’s no limit to what can be counterfeited with the marvel of 3D printing.
Basically, what you need to keep in mind when worried about the legality or illegality of 3D prints, is whatever’s illegal to own, is also illegal to print as well. The consequences that follow may vary accordingly.
For instance, if you happen to break someone’s copyright, patent, or trademark rights, you’re enabling legal action to be taken against you. However, if you’re printing an illegal, undetectable for example, 3D gun, you’re signing up yourself for a much serious offense.
Other items that may not bind themselves to the category of legal printing exactly, are access cards and keys that any robber, criminal or thief could take advantage of and get the better of the law. This includes handcuff keys as well.
Adding to the less bright side of 3D printing, is the deliberate use of it in printing illegal drugs. Furthermore, there’s an additional prospect of not selling drugs directly, but again, like weaponry, offering to trade the electronic design or a blueprint.
All this can be explained by an excerpt taken from an article written by Chris Gayomali, a GQ journalist. He writes,
“But with all the useful and practical applications of 3D printed drugs comes an obvious dark side. Take, for instance, the potential for amateur organic chemists to engineer their own designer drugs.
In Drugs 2.0: The Web Revolution That’s Changing How the World Gets High, author Mike Power envisions a near future where DIYers (mostly college grads with chemistry degrees) are using highly sophisticated techniques—including 3D printers—to render “controlled substances” an obsolete relic of the past”.
Next to discuss is in biological terms- virus and bacterium to be exact. While the technology bears the fruit of legitimate and helpful creations, unwarranted use can lead to disastrous results.
The book “Fabricated” written by Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman, hints towards a black-market of human organs in the near future.