Jan 18, 2016 | By Andre

The use of digital rights management (commonly known as DRM) in technology and media has been a point of contention for decades now. In music, certain platforms limit the number of devices a purchased track can play on while in film, the still commonly used optical disc formats are laced with copy-protection so as to prevent counterfeit usage. But DRM, designed as a mechanism to protect the content creators assets, doesn’t stop in the digital space. Hardware can also have protections installed.

In the world of 3D printing, DRM has increasingly been seen in the materials space. FDM 3D printers such as Stratasys’s uPrint Plus only accept approved filament spools while some resin based machines use proprietary formulas compatible only with their devices. The consumer printer market has even seen DRM make its advance. The most recent case revolves specifically around the entry-level edition of the Cube series of 3D printers by 3D Systems.

While I'm not here to take sides on the issue, owners of the entry-level Cube printer do have something to be concerned about in terms of the future usability of their machines. 3D Systems very recently announced that it will discontinue production of their $999 entry-level unit.

The release confidently suggests that existing inventory will continue to be sold and and support for the machines remains intact as well. This means current owners of these printers will, for the time being, still be able to purchase filament to be used in the newly discontinued printers. The question that remains, however, is for how long will this continue to be the case?

Michael Weinberg has been commenting on DRM in 3D Printing for some time now and has raised some legitimate concerns about the future of the Cube 3D printers in a recent blog post. While admitting it is completely up to 3D Systems to decide how it wants to move forward with its consumer division in terms of 3D printer production, he is worried about how they may enforce their protected filament cartridge system in the long run.

In his post, he suggests directly that “since the Cube is designed to only accept printing filament made by 3D Systems, as part of winding down the Cube - and as an act of good faith to Cube owners - 3D Systems should explicitly open the doors to third party filament.” And that this can be done with the following public commitments:

First, 3D Systems can promise not to sue any Cube users who use non-3D Systems filament for the Cube.  Second, 3D Systems can promise not to sue anyone who wants to make and sell filament that will work with the Cube.  Doing both requires circumventing the verification chip that 3D Systems includes in its filament today.

For current Cube owners, having the company’s support to explore alternative material sources would bring a sense of relief to anyone hoping to use their 3D printer well into the future. While hacks have been around for quite some time that can trick the 3D printer into allowing third-party filament solutions, going down that road remains a legal grey area (more in this earlier article by the same author).

Ultimately, the Cube isn’t the first consumer 3D printer to have proprietary elements built into their machines, but the sudden discontinuation of Cube production and what that means to the future of their DRM’d filament system is definitely newsworthy. Luckily, 3D Systems has assured current owners of their Cube 3D printer that they have their backs, and the way they’ve always purchased new filament won’t change. In a perfect world, this support will continue until every remaining Cube in the wild today has been mechanically exhausted due to overuse. My fingers remain crossed that this is the case.



Posted in 3D Printer Company



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Mike wrote at 8/12/2016 5:18:46 AM:

@John: I did consider that, but I literally just picked up a brand new Cube3 for $100. I bought it because the filament hack is so easy to do. Nobody that buys a Cube is constrained by DRM. There are a million videos on how its done. Since they discontinued the Cube3, I highly doubt 3DS is going to go after anybody for keeping the Cube working.

mike beaver wrote at 5/24/2016 6:58:14 PM:

I went through the misery of owning a cube printer. it spent most of its time in the mail going back and forth with problems. for the most part all I received is excuse for why it kept operatind in a very negative fashion. I was told it was all my fault and the man I spoke to on the phone would not let me speak to his boss. the final time it came back I tried making 2 projects. the first one came out very poorly and the second one did not come out at all. instead I got a message saying the extruder did not function. the lack of standing behind their products and misinformation has shown me that this company is in business to take your money and not deliver a quality product. the junk cube is now sitting in a room with all the filament boxes I purchased I spent a little over 3000.00 bucks on this junk and now I consider myself a real sucker. I now own a dremel 3d scanner and am purchasing another printer and so far in both cases the company stands behind their products and the dremel cost about the same as the cube and I ca not believe the difference in its operatio and warrenty. all I can say is 3d systems are junk, just looking to rip people off.

Bob Schmidt wrote at 1/19/2016 10:00:16 PM:

In November 2015, MakeShaper released cartridges for the Cube 2 and Cube Pro printers giving consumers an alternative source. MakeShaper manufactures the cartridges that offer the same fit and function as the original Cube cartridges, with the added benefit of being spooled with MakeShaper filament.

Wesley wrote at 1/19/2016 9:10:28 PM:

This article needs some fact checking. First off 3D Systems cannot bless or condemn anyone for using other filaments/cartridges in its printers. Under the Magnuson Moss Act a warranty can only be denied if there is proof that the aftermarket part or filament in this case is the cause of the problem. This is the same thing that HP and Lexmark have done with their laser and ink printers but yet there are still aftermarket cartridges for them. If you take a look at Lexmark VS Static Control https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lexmark_International,_Inc._v._Static_Control_Components,_Inc. you will see that this mirrors the mirrors the 3d printer industry, infact Static Control won that case regarding claims that there was a violation of the DMCA.

Ben Roberts wrote at 1/19/2016 11:14:09 AM:

The Cube is such a low-end machine now that I doubt many people will persist with it. Our local University had 12 Cubes, they've all ended up in the dumpster! Avi Reichenthal has payed the price of over-hyping the "3D printer in every home" idea. 3DS would have been better advised to stick with their target market (Stratasys too) and not blow investors money on a product that is fighting for space in a saturated market. I remember seeing the Cubes in a local chain store just before Christmas 2013 and thinking "Whaaaat????" RIP Cube.

John wrote at 1/19/2016 4:54:16 AM:

So.. With all the DRM free 3D printers that exist. With all the open designs, and open software. With all the multitude of filament types and thicknesses from all kinds of sellers.. In a market where people long ago settled on a choice between 3mm and 1.75mm filament in generic rolls.. Where pretty much every printer uses a simple USB interface that needs no drivers, and no special company specific software.. And even works with Linux, Windows and OSX.... On old and new computers.. Some people are still STUPID enough to seek out and buy one of the tiny few DRM crippled 3D printers for a grand a pop, and are now facing the fate of all DRM crippled products. That takes some skillful dedicated foot shooting. In the words of that great philosopher.. "Ha ha." Congrats on your new boat anchor. Hopefully every other DRM abuse printer will share the fate of the Coloring book Simple cube. I took 2 years of research, and much agonizing before I got my printer. A RepRap kit. So even though the maker has gone out of business, I can repair or replace anything with printed or generic parts. 3 years and counting, and it works beautifully.

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