Beleaguered 3D printing startup Just3DPrint (Just Print It Inc.) lost its long shot defamation lawsuit against 3DPrint.com parent company 3DR Holdings this month, the last of three legal battles that they filed in a Philadelphia court in February of this year. The case was filed by Just3DPrint CEO Ryan Simms in response to our coverage of their unauthorized sale of copyrighted 3D models and their subsequent public comments on the matter. Simms claimed that several articles written by me and published on 3DPrint.com in February of 2016 were defamatory and cost the nascent company an astonishingly unlikely sum of $100 million. Simms’ claims were rejected by the court, with the ruling judge saying that he failed to prove that any lost revenue was caused by our negative coverage. The company also filed and lost a similar lawsuit against TechCrunch, and filed a case against Stratasys, who declined to defend themselves, instead choosing to take the case to arbitration.
Back in mid-February of 2016 I was forwarded a link to a new 3D model that had been uploaded to model sharing marketplace Thingiverse by popular user Loubie, who has been written about on 3DPrint.com several times over the years. The simple Sad Face model was uploaded with information about an eBay seller that was selling 3D printed versions of models uploaded to Thingiverse despite many of the models having restrictive licenses that should have prevented their use in such a manner. Loubie found one of her models in the eBay store of Just3DPrint and was rebuffed when she contacted them asking that it be removed. A new Thingiverse user named JPI, presumably Simms himself, subsequently took to the model’s comment section and began explaining his reasoning in a tone that was equally confrontational, condescending and dismissive. The community fired back and inundated eBay with complaints and takedown requests, leading to the site to eventually suspend Just3DPrint’s account entirely.
A full year later Simms filed a lawsuit against 3DPrint.com’s parent company 3DR Holdings for defamation, claiming that our original article, published February 20th 2016, “is defamatory in nature and has caused my firm considerable harm.” In his complaint, Simms claimed that his young company lost an estimated $100 million, as they were on the cusp of generating nearly $2 million a month. He also claimed that they lost a contract that would have generated $10,000 a year in revenue, lost two advisors from their board of directors and countless business opportunities based on our article being one of the top Google hits on their business name.
When YouTube’s 3D Printing Nerd Joel Telling examined the count documents he found that when eBay suspended their account Just3DPrint had only brought in about $2,000 over the previous five months combined. Those numbers make their projected revenue claims of $2 million a month seem a bit over exaggerated. However proving a loss of revenue wouldn’t be Simms’ primary concern, proving to a court that I willfully defamed him while reporting on facts as I saw them would be. While my tone in the original article was, at times, pointed, I was very clear that I myself wasn’t a lawyer and was speaking as an informed layman. I was also responding to things directly said by Simms or a representative of Just3DPrint, allowing their own statements to speak for themselves. Proving defamation would be an uphill battle, and thankfully the court agreed:
“Other than factually summarizing the dispute between Loubie and the plaintiff and on occasion using somewhat ‘unflattering’ words to describe the plaintiff’s conduct, there is nothing in any of the articles which would lead this court to find the publications to be defamatory. In fact, the tone of the defendant’s articles is no different than the tone in the plaintiff’s February 19th comment on Thingiverse,” wrote Judge Pittman in his judgement.
According to Pittman, Simms failed to demonstrate that the original article met the legal definition of defamation as well as failed to prove that there was any special harm caused by its publication. While Pittman notes that Just3DPrint did lose revenue when their eBay account was suspended they failed to prove that the 3DPrint.com article played any part in its suspension. Just3DPrint didn’t even provide the court with an official reason for the account suspension or explain why eBay chose to suspend it, they just made a dubious claim about our involvement that they did not manage to back up with any evidence, even after the court asked them to do so.
The ruling was, naturally, a welcome one, but it didn’t happen by accident. The case was taken very seriously by 3DR Holdings and our editorial staff at 3DPrint.com. While I was assured that no one at the company believed that myself or 3DPrint.com had done anything wrong, being accused of intentionally harming someone is never pleasant. Thankfully our attorneys were successfully able to argue that Simms had completely failed to prove his case. I’ve attached our defending brief at the bottom of this article; it’s a pretty satisfying read, especially in the face of a legal challenge from someone who seemingly made up legal precedent as he saw fit.
“This lawsuit has touched on a number of important issues in today’s digital world; intellectual property, rights of use, responsibility of businesses/designers/customers, file sharing platforms, freedom of the press. The attention the matter has gained across the entire 3D printing community — and beyond, as echoes have been felt across digital file sharing and other businesses — points to the importance of IP as we digitize and make available designs and other files. It is our hope that this case will set a precedent in that integrity remains a critical business value in the press and in 3D printing,” said 3DPrint.com Editor-in-Chief Sarah Goehrke.
It is a relief that that the legal case is finally settled, but 3DPrint.com still needed to spend a lot of time and money defending our publication’s reputation, my professional reputation and the freedom of the press. It’s frustrating that rather than move on from a few poor business decisions Simms chose to attack us through the courts, seemingly as retaliation for my articles. It was not 3DPrint.com or TechCrunch or Stratasys or even Loubie and the other 3D designers, who had their hard work stolen against their wishes, who chose to ignore the law. None of us made the choice to defy legally binding and clearly identifiable copyrights in order to make a few bucks on eBay. Thankfully we are a publication that was in a position to spend the time and money required to defend ourselves. It’s sad that many hard working 3D designers do not have those same resources available to them in the face of injustice.
“It is nice that ‘right’ won out as sometimes the legal system can throw one a curveball,” said 3DR Holdings President Alan Meckler. “We had to defend our business and writers.”
Just3DPrint was just one of countless shady businesses who defy notoriously unsettled and unwritten IP laws in our industry. This one business was shut down due to overwhelming community action, but eBay still looks the other way with countless other similarly shady businesses. As I pointed out in one of my original articles on the subject, this was a disaster entirely of Just3DPrint’s own making. Had Simms, or whoever publicly addressed the issue, not made their inflammatory and specious legal claims it is likely that they would not have suffered the closure of their store. Had they simply removed Loubie’s design when asked they would likely have continued be to allowed to make money off of the work of others, and nothing would have happened to them. That is, in my mind, a far larger crime than the one that actually started this whole mess.
Discuss in the Lawsuit forum at 3DPB.com.