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The Next IP Battles

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cube_bad2.jpgLife is 3D

With all the recent focus on 3D movies and television, it would be easy to forget 3D printers, which have been a round for a while but are recently becoming more affordable. Not affordable, but more affordable. But, Internet to the rescue, you can upload 3D designs and have them printed at a site called Shapeways. Paramount went after an engineer/artist for making a copy of the cube from Super 8. Paramount (or someone working for them) designed the image, the engineer was selling it for profit, so it seems like an open and shut case. Except, it's one of those slippery slope things. Is every shape we see someone's IP? Maybe the Cube is covered but are chairs? Cars? Refrigerators? Do we have to seek the Platonic ideal of all physical items and only use those for 3D shapes we create? Sort of a master generic template. The "for profit" part might seem easy to argue, but what if, as an artitst, creating a painting of an Italian seaside, I include identifiable cars and boats and houses? Do I have to alter reality from now on? When will I have to pay to remember I saw a Model T the other day?

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Shift one section slightly and call it 'inspired' and you're in the free and clear.

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I've been keen on 3D printers for ages - the first, albeit primitive, "replicators." There are 3D printers that can make solar panels that cut 90% of the waste byproduct, there are $1,300 home 3D printer kits - there are even stem cell 3D printers that can make body parts (they successfully printed a vein.)

The IP cases for 3D printers, though, are going to make the IP cases for digital media look tame - and will be far more complex. You'd have to prove you stood to make a profit over, for example, the space Lego from Super 8, to prove you were being deprived of profits. If making a replica prop is now a copyright violation, is Volkin Props now in trouble? Will I be in trouble for modifying an action figure to look like another action figure?

The first legal battles here will be very interesting. Digital media copyright was basically the same as normal copyright until someone got off scot free - because he wasn't making a profit on the files he was hosting, he was not found in violation. The notion of technology that would allow the replication of media for essentially free just hadn't occurred to the original lawmakers. 3D printers will stir this pot even more.

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This is an absurd case of slippery slope argument. The little cube was designed by someone and is part of a copywritten product. Of course simply duplicating it and selling it for profit is illegal. And if you are copying other copywritten materials and profiting from them you are going to be breaking the law. It's very basic. If the design of a car is trademarked, copywritten, patented or somehow protected then yes, don't paint the goddamn thing and expect to profit from it.

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The thing is, if any physical replication of a copyrighted object or concept is considered a violation of copyright - then that is actually an incredibly broad interpretation that would have huge knock-on effects throughout culture. That means that I can't draw a picture of Superman or make my own Doctor Who Hallowe'en costume - what's the difference between that and making my own 3D printed sonic screwdriver replica or action figure?

Now, VileBill's arguing that the sale thereof is a violation, and that I agree with. If I try to sell Doctor Who costumes then I'm in trouble and deserve to be (though even here there is a grey market - a lot of comics artists make money off of sketches and commissions of copywritten characters.) But currently, for digital media, selling an unauthorized reproduction of copywritten media is NOT the threshold - merely distributing it is, even if it is actually costing the distributor money. And while the guy selling designs for the space Lego from Super 8 is in violation, what I'm worried about is its potential expansion into treating "giving the plans away" as a violation as well - that has broader implications that I'd like. That hasn't happened yet, but 3D blueprints can be considered digital media, subject to the interpretations I cited above. There's a legal battle coming over this.

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There is a very sane reason that digital media has a different level of enforcement. The ease of which it can be distributed. The Supreme Court stated long ago that simply making a copy of your favorite album on cassete tape wasn't a big deal. It was considered reasonable usage of the purchased product.

The change came with digital media and the internet. If I purchased The Best of Guess Who (I have it, fuck you for judging me) back in the day and made a cassette copy it would A)be an inferior copy B) take me a reasonable amount of time to create and C) not be easily distributable in a way that would impact the owners of the copywritten material. But on the internet with file sharing of digital media I can make a perfect copy of the latest Ke$ha album and make it available to a million folks for free (and she'd desererve it, fuck that fucktard fuckwit) and massively impact her sales.

Makes sense when you look at it without the common "I shouldn't have to pay for entertainment" attitude out there today.

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Quote:
But on the internet with file sharing of digital media I can make a perfect copy of the latest Ke$ha album and make it available to a million folks for free... and massively impact her sales.
True. And this might even be a bad thing.

But it's probably where the technology is taking us. Increasing levels of technology make some things easier and thus more profitable, and it makes other things easier and thus less profitable.

With digital compression and storage what it is... we're not all that far away from being able to (effectively) store all the music mankind has ever created (and electronically stores and cares about) on a single portable storage device.

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