The Battle Over 3D Printing

June 21, 2012 by dracs

3D Printers have become a great way for companies to consistently produce good quality miniatures. Just put in the design and a short while later you have yourself a completed mini. But what is going to happen now that this technology is becoming more readily available to us, the average none corporate user?

Clive Thompson of the technology news site Wired has written up an article to explain to us the problems such home use could be facing.

3D Printing Tanks

Thompson takes the example of one such user named Thomas Valenty, who used a relatively cheap 3D printer to design for himself some “Warhammer-style” miniatures based upon his brother’s Imperial Guard. He proceeded to put these designs online so they could be used by others with 3D printers. Games Workshop of course immediately jumped on this, causing the site which hosted the files to take them down.

But this could be just the start of the problems being faced by both companies and those wanting to print out their own miniatures. As Thompson says in his article:

Observers predict that in a few years we’ll see printers that integrate scanning capability — so your kid can toss in a Warhammer figurine, hit copy, and get a new one. The machine will become a photocopier of stuff.

This image, taken from Wikipedia, shows the way in which the technology of 3D printers allows people to make copies of existing items.

3D Scanning and Printing

With such possibilities appearing on the horizon it is unsurprising that companies such as Games Workshop are determined to protect their products from being copied in this manner, which could lead to much stricter rules regarding the use of 3D printers.

However, all is not so dark for those seeking to use 3D printers to help in their hobby, as Thompson explains.

Disputes over copies of physical objects are often fought using patent law, which is far less strict than copyright. For example, patents last only 20 years, which means many cool everyday objects (Lego bricks!) are long out of patent. What’s more, patent law generally governs only a complete assembled product, so creating replacement parts — a thriving pastime among hobbyists — is probably legal.

Furthermore, issues such as those surrounding Thomas Valenty’s case are something of a grey area, given that he had not directly copied the Games Workshop miniatures, rather making ones that matched with the style of Warhammer 40,000. Which leads one to ask what about all the other companies out there producing their own alternate takes upon Space Marines?

(Indeed, Weinberg isn’t even sure Valenty infringed onWarhammer‘s copyrighted designs, because Games Workshop is accusing him of creating figurines in the style of the game, and you can’t copyright style.)

So the future of home 3D printing could be anybody’s guess at this time. On the one hand we should respect the company’s rights to defend their own product. However, this should not be to the extent that it leads to the curbing of other people’s creative use of the tech.

What is your opinion on this issue? How do you think this could pan out for private users?