3d printing and Intellectual Property

How companies are hurting designers.

For a couple of years I have been publishing 3d printable designs via sharing platforms such as Thingiverse and Youmagine. But I got more than I bargained for.

Sharing is fun

I wanted to share these designs, so people could print them for personal use and enjoy them at home. Hence I decided to publish them under a Creative Commons - Attribution - Non Commmercial - No Derivatives license.
Or CC BY-NC-ND for short.

I quickly learned that, for the most part, makers are smart and nice people and they uphold the rules and give credit where it’s due. They give great feedback and stimulate designers in their efforts.

Or is it?

Unfortunately I also learned that there are a lot of 3d printing and affiliate companies that seem to be rather ignorant. They download these designs to their hearts content, print them, and show them off as an example of what their printer/filament/service can do.

They seemingly can’t be bothered to read the license or educate themselves on such matters. They proceed to display those works without attribution to the designers, exploit them for commercial use and pretty much do whatever they want with it.

Should a designer ask for clarification or file a complaint, he is often ignored or just sent off with a lame excuse. “It was the intern” seems to be the most popular choice of reply.

Designer draws the short straw

Sometimes companies have been using these designs for years, but when caught, most choose to take all infringing materials offline and consider the matter settled. Leaving the designer with nothing.
Or they quickly add attribution and keep ignoring the Non-Commercial clause. Ignoring the designers rights.

And this is hurting designers and the maker community, because most designers stop sharing after being burnt by such events. And we are all left with less designs to print.

Ducking responsibilities

When companies are pressed for answers, we get all sorts of vague responses used to validate their behavior. A small selection:

“We are only a small company, we can’t afford to license all the designs we use.” — You can sell thousands of dollars worth of 3d printers, but can’t pay a little to the designer whose work you use?

“Everybody is doing it.” — This is not kindergarten, you are a company, it’s no excuse!

“We are not selling your designs, so it’s not commercial use.” — You are showing how well your printer/filament/service can create these designs, and you make money by using them to promote your company. That falls under commercial use.

“Designers should be happy that we show their work to thousands of people.” — Really, without attribution? What good does that do them? And it’s not up to you to decide.

Time to educate

So to improve awareness here is an educational flow-chart every company using 3d printable designs should check. (Click to enlarge or view it here)

Creative Commons — What?

Another issue is that a lot of the people involved seem to draw a complete blank when pointed to the Creative Commons license attached to a design.
I invite those to read up on http://creativecommons.org/licenses/

Final thoughts

My final advice is to don’t assume anything when it comes to IP rights. And when in doubt, just sent the designer a friendly message and ask him if, and under what conditions you can use their work.

Now let’s all try to improve on this and let’s hope we can entice designers to keep to sharing more awesome work for everyone to enjoy.

That way you will have cool new stuff to show of your printers with!
As long as you ask for permission first ;-)

Thank you for reading!

About the Author

Stijn van der Linden is a professional 3d printing designer and owner of studio Virtox.

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