An Epic Journey into the Grey Spectrum of IP, Creative Commons, Moral Rights & 3D Printing

Many of you may now be aware of the recent exchanges that have taken place over the 3D printed Impossible Triangle (Penrose Triangle) first posted on Shapeways on the 9th of Feb.  In a matter of days a sequence of events unfolded that are indicative of the speed that 3D printing community moves when something exciting happens, both good and bad. It has raised serious issues that we need to discuss as a community to ensure the vibrancy and innovation is not crippled by legal interference.

Ulrich Schwanitz first uploaded his item on the 27th of January 2010, which was to be the first ever 3D printed Penrose Triangle. He then received the print on the 9th, took a few simple images and made a mind disturbing video that showed that indeed he had succeeded in making a truly amazing optical mind twister.

We saw his item in the ‘It Arrived’ forum and reached out to a few of our press connections to share what we thought was a very cool design, the press agreed and sites such as Notcot and Fastco Design posted the item and generated a torrent of interest in the geometric wonder. This led to a bit of conjecture on the internet with a couple of people figuring out a solution including Constantine Zuev and soon after with a 3D model by Artur Tchoukanov where Joris posted the solution on the I.Materialise blog on Feb 16th and Artur also released the 3D model onto Thingiverse.. (but you may not be able to see it right now).

So, the Fastco article gets updated with Artur’s CG renders and boingboing posts about Artur’s solution on the 17th but unintentionally omitted to mention the 3D item was first realized by Ulrich.  Ulrich is disappointed that his concept solution has been leaked (perhaps a simple “I solved it” would have been enough without releasing the solution as a cad file) and that he was not attributed as the inventor on boingboing. Upon notification that Ulrich designed the original 3D model Cory Doctorow updated his post as soon as he could to rectify the omission.

It does not end here as Ulrich, disappointed at the decision of Artur to render the original design worthless by releasing it into the public domain also sent a take down notice to Thingiverse under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act

Pictured above is the first derivative of Artur’s unprinted model by Chylld on Thingiverse.

Ok, so maybe the DMCA notice was not the best way to handle the situation, legalities aside, it is often better to communicate directly with the person who has posted the object if you think there is a problem.  I am not qualified to really give a full breakdown of the legality of the DMCA, whether Ulrich holds a copyright, whether he can issue a DMCA from the Netherlands where he is based to the USA where Thingiverse is based but Thingiverse were obliged to respond to takedown notices in a timely manner or risk losing protection under the “Safe Harbor” provision. For more info on the legalities of 3D printing take a good look at It Will Be Awesome if They Don’t Screw it Up by Michael Weinberg.

Now we have the first time a DMCA takedown notice is issued for a copyrighted object in the 3D printed world, something that was bound to happen sooner or later.  Not only is the item by Artur taken down, but also the derivative by Chylld that further increases the complexity.

After consideration Ulrich has decided to drop the DMCA notice, and instead release his model to the public domain on the 21st of February… This is a really good move on Ulrich’s part that will hopefully lessen the stress on all parties and some of the negativity permeating through the 3D printing community.

In the meantime new versions of the Penrose Triangle have been posted on Thingiverse “based solely on the 1934 design painted by Swedish artist Oscar Reutersvärd” in what is becoming a symbol of defiance against DMCA in relation to 3Dprinting.

Now we need to discuss how we can resolve these issues in the future without the slow and heavy hand of law and legislation choking the speed and creativity of the online maker movement.

We need to ensure Shapeways and Thingiverse remain a safe place to show and share ideas and products without them being copied without proper attribution and released in a matter of days thereby devaluing the original. We also need to make sure that Shapeways and Thingiverse do not become flooded with copies and knock-offs of existing designs which would move them away from being a place of innovation to one of suspicion from potential users and copyright protection authorities. 

We have of course seen precedents with music, game and movies being pirated and shared, but the relatively small size of the community make this a little more intimate.  The fact that this is being played out between two or three people, but watched by many more, who are all passionately involved in pushing design forward with 3D printing may have fueled this to move into a awkward position incredibly quickly, all unfolding within two weeks..

Like the precedents above, we now have their experience and the help of Creative Commons licenses as a framework of attribution to guide us and make it easier to be fair when we share but this does not cover this incidence where a design is copied and then shared. Rather than use legislation or law it would be better if we as a community decide how to deal with this situation. We also have It Will Be Awesome if They Don’t Screw it Up as a starting point for the discussion.

We need to create our own guidelines and boundaries of what is acceptable before legislation does if for us, we need to work as a community to define what is acceptable, and when it is not, how we deal with that.  We need to keep communication open, if someone does something you think is a direct copy of your, or someone else’s design, let them know personally, or send an email to Shapeways, Thingiverse, Ponoko or wherever the item is and let us know your concerns.

This of course is just the beginning and we will e discussing this more in the future, but we would love to hear your thoughts on this and how we can make this work in a fair way for everyone.