“for some designers… protection may be better achieved through instant prototyping and continuous product change rather than intellectual property law”

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3D printing: saviour or piracy tool?, a recent article by Brad Howarth for Fairfax Syndicated media in Australia and New Zealand lightly touched on issues of 3D printing and IP.

Reference Book Collection

The recent debate has been fuelled by The Pirate Bay’s new Physibles section for product files with opinions ranging from ‘the sky is falling’ type declarations with demands that CAD files and products be embedded with DRM type devices to ‘cue the worlds smallest violin’ to copyright holders, even with disbelief and accusations that 3D printing is a hoax, again.

This is something that will require much more discussion to work through but what was interesting at the end of Howarth’s article was a quote by Bruce Arnold, a lecturer in the School of Law at the University of Canberra:

“Just as with existing counterfeiting options, Arnold said that many
consumers would still prefer to buy the original item. But for some
designers, he said protection may be better achieved through instant
prototyping and continuous product change rather than intellectual
property law.”

We know one of the benefits of 3D printing is that you do not need to retool to make an iteration on a product, we know that designing and testing a new product is relatively inexpensive compared to the  processes of mass production. We know that most designers would rather spend their time designing new products then defending their designs in court.  We also know that most designers do not have the tools an assets at their disposal to even attempt to stake a claim around their designs so what is the best way to proceed? You got it.

“protection may be better achieved through instant prototyping and continuous product change rather than intellectual property law.”

Sure it is disheartening if your design is blatantly copied or the idea appropriated without proper attribution (another big topic for another day) but the only way for most independent designers to beat this is to build a brand of continuous innovation

The internet responds well to quick thinking and agile execution of those ideas with good documentation.

The interest spike for a product on the internet is really quite short, for a you to ride that wave you need to capitalize on the interest and follow immediately after with the next product/story. That is how you will build your personal brand.  Do not spend too much time worrying if someone is copying your design because as Seth Godin puts it, “The enemy of the author is not piracy, but obscurity this is true for most designers also.

If someone’s personal brand is built on copying others designs or leaching from their brand like a virtual Shanzai without permission or attribution, they may make some quick cash in the short term, but they will never have a devoted following waiting upon their next product.  This following is what will lead to success. Look at the fanaticism surrounding Apple, Kikkerland, United Nude, Minecraft, etc.. Authentic, original output, be it product, fashion or digital media, no one is a fan of clone.

In music it is not the cover bands that sell tickets and tour the world.  Original artists who innovate and continuously release new music stay ahead of any imitators. 

Be an innovator not an imitator!

Reference Book Collection / Jordanhill School D&T Dept / CC BY 2.0


  1. Alexander Baloche


    Your quite right, however there is a paradox here which should not be overlooked, namely that _Piracy_ is pushing companies to become authentic and continuously creative because that is, the only way to ensure their brand longevity. That piracy is pushing companies to “authentic creativity” is almost ironic.

    Moreover this creative shift will have a substantial impact on business, since it will completely disrupts the widespread cash cow mentality which is common in global business today. This shift will have a huge impact mostly on multinationals, due to their size and extensive organizational structure.

    And simultaneously this shift will set the stage for a whole new breed of the creative class, smaller and leaner than their multinational counterparts, this new type will have its focus solely on continuous creative problem solving eg. identifying the problem, designing a solution and distributing the design files and then moving on to the next problem that needs to be solved. Innovation doesn’t get more disruptive that this :) .

    Alexander Baloche

    1. Duann

      Hey Alexander,

      Let’s hope both companies and individuals leverage the agility of digital fabrication to innovate.

      It will be hard for multinationals to adjust to this shift, as we have seen the clumsy way some players have entered the 3D printing scene.

      I am looking forward to seeing more individuals come together in loose collectives to cross pollinate and make their ideas real with 3D printing

  2. Alexander Baloche

    Hi Duann,

    Could you sent me a link on how companies fumbled into 3D printing scene. I can image what happened but the real thing is so much more enjoyable :) .

    Alexander Baloche

    1. Duann

      Hey Alexander,

      I will not send links but the problems with ‘old school thinking’ are raised in a recent Forbes article.


      “large traditional organizations are not good at. They will have to learn how to disrupt their own supply chains and develop new products that have not even been heard of. Traditional management won’t get the job done. They will have to set aside maximizing shareholder value. They will have to learn how to be part of the emerging Creative Economy.”

  3. Howard

    Hi Duann,

    I find this stuff fascinating. Could you please provide some links or reference material where designing without IP law has been succesful, or maybe some other good info on IP law? The best website I have found on the case against IP is http://www.Mises.org


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