Feb 21, 2016 | By Benedict
Thingiverse users have been protesting against just3Dprint, an eBay store selling multiple (2K+) 3D printed models of Thingiverse designs without the permission of their designers. A maker named ‘loubie’ brought the matter to public attention when the store refused to take down her design from their catalogue.
A strange tale has been unfolding over the last few days; a tale of copyright law, alleged digital property theft, and angry Thingiverse makers. On Thursday, popular 3D designer loubie posted a symbolic “Sad Face” design on her Thingiverse page in order to explain the ordeal she had just been through. Whilst casually browsing through eBay last week, the maker stumbled across a 3D printed model of “Aria the Dragon”, being sold by eBay user just3Dprint. The 3D printed model seemed extraordinarily familiar to loubie—the design was, in fact, her own.
Thingiverse, hosted by 3D printing giant MakerBot, is a platform on which amateur makers can share their 3D printable designs. All Thingiverse models are free to download, but uploaders can choose to add a Creative Commons license to their design, restricting the way in which downloaders can use the digital files. There are four types of Creative Commons license: Attribution (BY), Share-Alike (SA), Non-Commercial (NC), and No Derivative Works (ND). "Aria the Dragon" was assigned the BY, NC, and ND licenses, which meant that just3Dprint would have had to give loubie credit for any copies made (according to BY), that they could not have sold the model for profit (according to NC), and that they could not have altered the design in a reproduction (according to ND). From what loubie could see, just3Dprint appeared to be clearly violating the Creative Commons rules, but after sending the eBay store a polite message regarding their use of her design, loubie received the following response:
“When you uploaded your items onto Thingiverse for mass distribution, you lost all rights to them whatsoever. They entered what is known in the legal world as "public domain”.
The single exception to public domain rules are “original works of art”.
No court in the USA has yet ruled a CAD model an original work or art.
Therefore, you have no right to exclude others from utilizing the CAD models you have uploaded.
Furthermore, if in the future we do get a precedent in the USA for establishing CAD models as “original works of art”, we would still likely be just fine as we are not re-selling your CAD models, but rather “transformative” adaptions of them in the form of 3D printed objects.
Sad Face (above) and Aria the Dragon
“P.S. When you created these CAD files, did you really want to limit the amount of people who could enjoy them to the 0.01% of the USA with a 3D Printer? 100% of America can purchase the items from us at a reasonable cost and enjoy them-creating made in the USA jobs in the process as well. Furthermore, if you hate the idea of people profiteering from your work, you may want to take it up with Makerbot/Stratasys who only hosts Thingiverse for AD revenue, to sell more 3D printers.”
loubie was understandably flabbergasted, and took the matter public via her Sad Face project. The post has now attracted over 350 comments, with users overwhelmingly backing loubie and condemning the ethically dubious (and possibly illegal) actions of just3Dprint. For despite just3Dprint’s thorough and seemingly authoritative response to loubie, many readers have questioned the legal accuracy of the company’s arguments. After being harangued on social media, the eBay seller eventually offered a far lengthier reply than its first, posting it in the Sad Face comment thread.
The long and meandering defense offered by just3Dprint ran to over 3,500 words, flaunting a range of reasons, some pseudo-legal, others pseudo-ethical, for the legitimacy of the company’s actions. Needless to say, the Thingiverse community remained unimpressed, pouring further doubt over the legal knowhow of the just3Dprint mouthpiece.
“We are currently only receiving attention as the result of a smear campaign by a competitor,” the just3Dprint spokesperson explained at the conclusion of the long comment. “Tons of individuals are now monetizing open-source designs from sites like Thingiverse, the vast majority of CAD designs are not currently protected by United States IP law once they fall into public domain, the Thingiverse ‘non-commercial license’ is legal toilet paper that Thingiverse itself violates millions of times daily, and most creators either don’t care about their works being monetized or simply want a call out—if not, they likely would never have put their designs online for anyone and everyone to download in the first place.”
One notable figure who has expressed skepticism about the legal accuracy of just3Dprint’s arguments is Shapeways' legal expert Michael Weinberg, who has written two articles (here and here) about the company’s actions since the story became a talking point on Thursday. Although the writer admits to there being gray areas around CAD copyrighting, he sees numerous holes in just3Dprint’s case. “I think it is safe to say that I’m skeptical of just3Dprint’s claims,” Weinberg wrote. “There are situations where just3Dprint may not need the permission of a designer to reprint and sell a model uploaded to Thingiverse, but none of the justifications offered feel legitimate to me or seem to address those situations.”
So just who is responsible for this mysterious eBay store, its allegedly stolen products, and its aggressive attitude? According to the just3Dprint website, the company offers a range of 3D printing services beyond selling 3D printed Thingiverse designs. It is the brainchild of four Philadelphia-based students, and is currently part of a startup incubator at the Wharton School called the Wharton Venture Initiation Program (VIP), with the young company receiving “expert guidance” from a group of senior professionals.
Thingiverse users have been making their feelings known to just3Dprint by sending messages to its managers and to the Wharton Venture Initiation Program. Thingiverse has been notified of the company’s actions, and is reportedly preparing a response. As of writing, Aria the Dragon has been taken down but many other makers still have prints of their work up for sale under Just3Dprint's eBay account. As a gesture of solidarity with loubie and the numerous other Thingiverse designers whose 3D prints have been used by just3Dprint, several makers have already downloaded and 3D printed the Sad Face. Who, though, will be smiling at the end of the legal battle? We’ll be sure to keep you posted about any updates on this intriguing story.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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kb wrote at 2/24/2016 9:16:49 PM:
" starting a lawsuit is not worth the damage" So many designers are being robbed. There is matter for a class action with Thingiverse's participation!
ukcat wrote at 2/23/2016 1:26:57 AM:
Corey Warren, you are completely missing the point and making a totally obvious observation that every designer knows. The designers, including myself, aren't looking to "be compensated" for their work for these models. What we are wanting is NOT to see our work being stolen and sold by others. The models in questions are those with a CC Non-Commercial License, which means no one is permitted to make money from them. We share with the community, not with greedy retailers. Anyone looking to be compensated of course wouldn't post a design anywhere but a "protected site". Duh....
Corey Warren wrote at 2/22/2016 7:34:39 PM:
3D designers that want to be compensated for their time and effort do not post their work on Thingiverse. There are other portals online where you have to pay to download the files and most of the $$ goes back to the designer.
jos hoebe wrote at 2/22/2016 9:48:51 AM:
The guys of just3Dprint should commit themselves to the golden rule and consider that if they were themselves designer what they would like/do in this situation. also the officials of Wharton school should point the boys to that. all the rest is petty talk. if you put your models on thingiverse you like to have it made. maybe thingiverse can change something in the idea of what they offer. if creative commons is violated there is no-way to go after it, because starting a lawsuit is not worth the damage. so the designer has to think for himself what he really wants. Am i pissed off because the boys earn some money with it (and he wants a part of it) or that the boys do not refer to the designer? the happening is interesting enough to think about what we as people are doing. are we friend-like or enemy-like?
Fredini wrote at 2/22/2016 6:03:54 AM:
One of these items, 3D Printed Krampus! http://www.ebay.com/itm/3D-Printed-Krampus-/252198208958?roken=cUgayN&soutkn=XZEnZd is my design, taken from the thingiverse site page http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:933470 . The file's licence is noncommercial: Krampus! by fredini is licensed under the Creative Commons - Attribution - Non-Commercial license. Furthermore, the listing uses my copyright photograph in its listing, taken at an artist in residency in the June 2015 at the Pilchuck Glass School. Perhaps the use of the photograph is an exception to the circuitous logic these jerks are using?