The discussions and conversations between 3D printing and copyrights is heating up and many rapid prototyping services are taking notice. People work hard to protect their original designs, their innovative ideas, and their industry changing developments; however, many people feel that certain owners of 3D printers are jeopardizing the intellectual property of those who originally created the item or design being replicated. As with various technological advances before 3D printing, similar issues are being presented.
What is Intellectual Property, Copyright, and a Patent?
Many people are familiar with the terms intellectual property, copyright, and patent; however, few people today truly understand the significance. In fact, some of these words are so important in many countries that they are included in free trade agreements between most countries worldwide. It is quite important to understand the meanings and differences of these words. Intellectual property is the actual design or work that a person creates that is in many ways unique to anything else in existence. Intellectual property can then be protected by copyrights and patents so that other people cannot simply copy their ideas without paying a fee or authorization of use.
A copyright and a patent both legally protect intellectual property and the difference depends on the type of intellectual property being protected. Copyright includes works such as software, art, music, plays, books, engineering designs, etc. A patent protects items such as discoveries, innovations, and improvements upon existing items. And, for a patent to be applicable, the idea must be materialized into a working component whether it be a machine or a math equation before the patent will be approved and protected.
Similar Challenges of the Past
As with most new technologies, people struggle to protect their innovations and ideas. Some people believe that certain intellectual property should be available to everyone, and others simply do not understand the legal consequences or significance of copyrights and patents. Either way, the technology battle with intellectual property is far from a recent issue. One of the most well-known cases involves music file sharing services in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Napster was at the center of a great technological controversy by allowing users to share digital files with other users without purchasing the rights to use the music. The same has been done with the film and television industry, as well as with video games and software programs.
Patent and copyright infringement has varying levels of risk depending upon the country. The governments of most developing countries do not spend time nor resources to enforce copyright laws as criminal activity even if the country is contractually obligated through a free trade agreement. This is often a source of frustration with those countries that depend upon copyright and patent earnings as part of their own gross domestic product and revenue from taxes. Most people in developing countries do not even know they are doing something illegal or they have little concern about taking such actions. It is often a cultural difference in attitude and understanding.
A similar concern is quickly arising with rapid prototyping services and the additive manufacturing industry. To print an item, people simply need a digital file to do so. People can either scan an object or design their own software drawing. Many of the designs for items that are able to be 3D printed are purchased under copyright protection to be used at home or in a business much like that of purchasing music from iTunes or reusing images found online that are copyright protected at various levels. The issue at the forefront of conversations in the 3D-printing industry is that once people have these files, they could begin sharing them illegally much like that of Napster in the past. At the moment, copyright laws and patent officials have very little ability to protect those who originally created the item being scanned or the individuals who created the software designs for printing the items.
The Future and Consequences
Copyright and patent protection is not simply about making an individual money. It often protects consumers from being taken advantage of by unauthentic and inferior products and unethical businesses. It allows innovators to recover the costs incurred during the research and development of their innovations and ideas, as well as their time. And, it provides individuals with brand protection in the marketplace.
The consequences of infringing upon copyright laws and patents varies greatly by country; however, most countries have the ability to impose significant fines on any individual who illegally uses or shares digital files that are protected by copyrights and patents. In the past, people have been fined anywhere from $225,000 to $675,000 for illegally downloading music files. The same has been seen recently in regards to movies and television programs. And, it is expected that as this concern continues to rise with reputable rapid prototyping services, similar fines will be issued to individuals who illegally copy and download copyright and patent protected software and items to print 3D items at home or for business use.
Rapid prototyping and 3D printing is a protected industry just like any other technology industry. Before you hire a rapid prototyping service or print at home, it is best that you are aware of the copyrights pertaining to the designs you use and the items you intend to scan or you could face severe penalties and fines from various sources. At the end of the day, following intellectual property laws helps to create and foster a more innovative and competitive environment by forcing people to improve upon designs and objects that already exist; thereby, resulting in a better life for all.
Our team of experts are ready to help you.