3D Printing Will Be As Disruptive As the PC, Thanks to Piracy
The Economist published a feature on the intellectual property implications of 3D printing. Remember Napster and shareware? 3D printing will be as disruptive as the PC.
The machines, called 3D printers, have existed in industry for years. But at a cost of $100,000 to $1m, few individuals could ever afford one. Fortunately, like everything digital, their price has fallen. So much so, industrial 3D printers can now be had for $15,000, and home versions for little more than $1,000 (or half that in kit form). “In many ways, today’s 3D printing community resembles the personal computing community of the early 1990s,” says Michael Weinberg, a staff lawyer at Public Knowledge, an advocacy group in Washington, DC.
This disruption will require a change in business model. The question is whether manufacturers will adapt.
Manufacturers are likely to behave much like the record industry did when its own business model—based on selling pricey CD albums that few music fans wanted instead of cheap single tracks they craved—came under attack from file-swapping technology and MP3 software. The manufacturers’ most likely recourse will be to embrace copyright, rather than patent, law, because many of their patents will have expired. Patents apply for only 20 years while copyright continues for 70 years after the creator’s death.
Will regulation create obstacles to innovation?
Today’s 3D printing crowd—tucked away in garages, basements, small workshops and university labs—needs to keep a keen eye on such policy debates as they grow. “There will be a time when impacted legacy industries [will] demand some sort of DMCA for 3D printing,” says Mr Weinberg. If the tinkerers wait until that day, it will be too late.
Read the full feature at The Economist.
Piracy photo by robotson used under Creative Commons license.