With the increasing popularity of 3d printing, it is almost inevitable that the technology will have legal growing pains similar to those of other technologies.  However, unlike digital music and movies, the products of 3D printing could be subject to not only copyright law, but also patent law.  In this series, we will provide an overview of the intellectual property laws that can apply to this technology and the likely hurdles the industry will face.

Copyright law protects “works of authorship” that have been “fixed in a tangible form of expression”.  Copyright protection arises upon the work being fixed in a tangible form.  While registration of a copyright affords the copyright holder several benefits, it is not a requirement for protection to arise.  Among the types of works that are subject to copyright and that are relevant to 3d printing are pictorial, graphic and sculptural works.

Copyright is actually a bundle of rights that include the right to make copies of the work, as well as the right to make works derived from the original work.

The copyright arises in the author and is owned either by the author, or the author’s employer if the work is a work made for hire.  It is important to realize that simply owning a copy of a work does not give the owner the copyright.

As to 3d printed articles, copyright protection potentially could apply to any copy made of an article.  Accordingly, individuals who decide to 3d print a copy of an item should consider whether that item might be subject of copyright.  If the individual obtains a CAD file, did they also obtain permission to make 3d copies of the article represented in the CAD file?  If the individual scans an article and 3d prints from the CAD file generated from the scan, have now two potential copies, or one copy and a derivative work been made in possible violation of the copyright?

These and other questions will be explored in further entries…

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