Nov 30, 2015 | By Kira
3D printed guns and firearms have once again become a hot-button issue within the 3D printing industry, as the world’s first 3D printed revolver has just come to light while the New South Wales government has implemented a law that specifically makes owning a 3D printed gun illegal. Yet even if firearms aren’t your cup of tea, if you either design or create 3D printed products, you could be infringing on IP law, copyrights, or a host of other legal issues without even knowing it.
As a topic that easily generates a lot more questions than answers, we could probably all use a little brushing up on the legal aspects surrounding 3D printing. Luckily, Dutch law firm De Clercq Advocaten Notarissen has just issued a brief yet educational white paper that covers everything from intellectual property law (IP) to copyright law, to the especially murky waters of product liability, all within the new reality of the 3D printing industrial revolution. Though written based on Dutch law and regulations, these are generally implemented based on the European Directives, and thus will be consistent with many other European countries, and in some cases perhaps not so far off from US or other nations’ policies.
The first topics to be addressed are two of the most talked about legal issues in 3D printing: Intellectual Property and Copyright law. “Arguably the majority of IP rights qualify as copyright,” writes Willem Balfoort, a Dutch IT-law attorney specialized in the legal aspects of 3D printing and author of the white paper. “As a vast majority of 3D printed objects are protected by a copyright, copyright infringement can easily rear its ugly head. Parties who 3D print objects upon customer request are especially advised to make sure the object and/or the CAD file do not infringe upon any third party rights, or at least that liability for infringement lies with the customer.”
In this case, and in many others such as direct patent infringement, Balfoort stresses that it is essential to have legally-binding General Conditions and other contractual provisions in place, by means of which liability for infringement is shifted from the contractor to the assignor (the customer).
For right holders, he advises a ‘prevention is better than cure’ approach. “The most advisable option would seem to follow the music and film industries’ lead and develop new business models, such as the one that includes a customer-friendly platform that offers authorized CAD files for reasonable price.”
The white paper goes on to discuss private copy exception, direct and indirect 3D printing patent infringement, design rights (section 5.2 features an interesting aside on the legal acceptance of 3D printed ‘repair parts’), and trademark law, providing background, insight, and advice for CAD designers, 3D printing parties and individuals.
The section on Product Liability is also quite interesting, as it addresses the significant blurring of boundaries between ‘producers’ and ‘consumers’ brought on by 3D printing. “Product liability typically refers to a manufacturer or seller being held liable for placing a defective product into the hands of a consumer,” explains Balfoort. However, in the case of 3D printing, who exactly is the ‘producer’? The supplier and/or manufacturer of the 3D printer? The CAD file designer? The print shop and/or consumer who prints the object in question?
The answers only become clear on a case-by-case basis, if at all. In fact, Balfoort contends that the premise of the European directive upon which product liability is based “seems irreconcilable with the new reality of 3D printing…Consequently, the question regarding the reasonable allocation of risks must be reconsidered.”
Clearly, governments and legal offices will need to extensively review current regulations surrounding IP law, copyright, patents, design law, and especially product liability. In addition, many other legal issues can arise in regards to 3D printing manufacturing, including safety and security issues (with 3D printed guns obviously falling into that category), environmental aspects, labor law, etc.
Since it will most likely be a long time before any of these questions will be decisively resolved, Balfoort emphasizes that companies that use, or wish to use, 3D printers must notify their insurers of this fact in order to ensure that they will have proper coverage, and that both companies and individuals should always seek the advice of specialized lawyers before entering 3D printing markets in which specific regulations and standards may apply. In short: knowledge is power, and in order to prevent innocent 3D printing enthusiasts from ending up on the wrong side of the law, we need to have more open, knowledgeable and accessible discussions about the legal aspects of the 3D printing industry.
In order to get an in-depth understanding of the various topics mentioned above, you can read De Clercq’s full white paper here. In addition, you can read-up on past and present cases in which 3D printing has run in with the law, including: The Federal Circuit’s ruling on 3D printing data transmission in ClearCorrect vs ITC; How a Mustachioed Duchamp chess set is opening the dialogue on 3D printing and copyright laws; French security’s ban on 3D printable gun schematics; and Joshua Pearce’s algorithm for obviousness to prevent 3D printing material patents.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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