3D Printing Rights, Risks & Responsibilities: University of Melbourne Researchers Want You to Understand Them!


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download (18)Most of us are well aware—and do our best to accept—that the party has to end sometime. As 3D printing blew into the industrial, designing, and engineering realms like a locomotive, streamrolling over many traditional processes and putting new tools into the hands of many very creative and resourceful people, rules weren’t part of the quotient for quite some time. The sharing community began to grow, innovations blossomed, and soon 3D printing was becoming available everywhere. And as that much talk about accessibility and affordability began to become a reality, so did other not-so-pleasant elements like general bickering among makers, copyright infringement, and of course—overall security issues.

new 3dpiNow, a team from the University of Melbourne is offering a helpful new online guide for users called ‘3D Printing Rights & Responsibilities.’ Making it clear that today there actually are some rules, as well as concerns, the School of Culture and Communications team reveals risks that are more common today with 3D printing and explains what safeguards have now been put into place. The university project was led by Dr. Luke Heemsbergen and Dr. Robbie Fordyce, both of whom were dedicated to seeing consumers understand how to enjoy 3D printing, as well as to use the technology in a secure manner without getting into trouble.

Everything is detailed at 3DPI, created due to demand by the growing number of new 3D printing enthusiasts.

“The free resources are the result of extensive multidisciplinary research in Australia, and beyond, that identified emerging issues and trends within the consumer 3D printing space such as who owns the designs you share, the ones you modify and how they can be used by others,” said Dr. Heemsbergen.


It’s certainly no surprise to hear that the researchers found consumers to be lacking in knowledge regarding 3D printing. With the complexities often involved from digital design to the actual hardware and 3D printing, innovation is complicated enough—much less worrying about rights and responsibilities in terms of the files themselves. Sharing is rampant, but often encouraged, making it difficult to understand the gray areas.

 “Interview with experts and industry leaders, and complex modeling of the sharing patterns of objects online also raised a number of new issues for consumers,” said Dr. Fordyce.

The team worked with focus groups who evidenced clear gaps in knowledge. So, while 3D printers may be very popular around the world, and that only seems to be growing, it’s also becoming imperative that users understand the implications when designing, sharing, and printing. Much of this is a natural evolution from not only within the new user group, but in the industry overall as the need to be more aware and tighten up all around becomes apparent.

Issues that Drs. Heemsbergen and Fordyce included in their areas of concern are:

  • Quality of 3D printing files found online
  • Long term social impact of the proliferation of 3D printed objects
  • Legal protections relevant to the sharing and using of 3D printable files

“3D printing is a social practice that is built on a specific set of technologies, how people 3D print, what they print, and how society understands and decides this becomes a social and political concern,” Dr. Heemsbergen said.

“Worrying about copyright and other intellectual property rights is necessary, but not sufficient – there are ethical, cultural and social aspects of what we make that tell us who we are as a society.”


The ‘scorecard,’ found at 3DPI, offers helpful information to consumers regarding 3D file sharing sites.

The university’s project builds on initial research undertaken by Melbourne Networked Society Institute on domestic 3D printing and was funded by the Australian Consumer Communications Action Network (ACCAN) grants project. Aside from offering guides and information, the helpful website created by the research team also highlights educational resources and directs users to articles and other information. Consumers can also learn from a detailed scorecard regarding file sharing sites, more about legal implications and rights (including patents, reasons for prosecution, and more), as well as a short lesson in the actual ins and outs of 3D printing itself. Beyond that, a list of resources is included for learning more about using the technology.

“We are used to viewing things – anything and everything – out in cyberspace, but when that barrier breaks down, and the digital is made physical in your own home, people have new concerns,” Dr. Fordyce said.

“Our scorecard at 3DPrintingInfo.org offers simple advice and information on the extent that various popular 3D printing websites protect consumers who want to start 3D printing.”

The research leaders explore a focal point in how the internet is ‘decentralizing control of media,’ and what can be done in terms of 3D printing to feel secure in enjoying and using the technology—while also not infringing on others. Quite simply, they want Australians to understand rights and risks. Below are a list of some of the guidelines they offer at 3DPI.


  • Copyright is for creative and artistic works, not ideas or functional objects.
  • Terms of Service on 3D printing sites matter, and might restrict the protections of your own country’s IPR.
  • The legal difference between printed objects and their design files are subtle, and each holds their own restrictions.
  • The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is often invoked for digital copyright disputes and this happens outside the courts, which makes for efficient, but possibly unfair, outcomes that can remove content from sites.
  • If an artistic work is 3D printed ‘industrially,’ Australian copyright protections may no longer apply – the design should be registered.


  • Design and trademarks concern IP that is separate from artistic and inventive function but speak, respectively, to what makes a product look the way it does and to its origin.
  • Using others’ trademarks as your own and others’ design to make profits is infringement.
  • Users can make objects that have trademarked shapes, or are based on un/registered designs if they don’t sell those objects, but third parties like 3D printing sites might not be able to legally host these designs.


  • Patents pertain to useful inventive things or processes that have functional uses.
  • Patents need to be registered before users make their inventions public.
  • Infringement at home might happen without user knowledge, but there is no way or want to regulate this.

Discuss further over in the 3D Printing Risks forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: ITWire]

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