Previously we looked at if we should kill Thingiverse. Thingiverse is a site that allows you to upload and remix files. It’s a key piece of infrastructure for a 3D printed world because it lets us all extend our collective knowledge and make it more fit for all purposes. Thingiverse’s sheer size makes it important, but the tool has not been working as advertised now for a number of years. We clearly need Thingiverse to be better than it is. A recent case has made me think a bit further afield, however.
Consider the case of an artist named Andrew Martin. He was inspired by Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room and, in turn, 3D modeled and made an artifact based on the Tiki Room. He now claims that Disney downloaded his file from Thingiverse and copied his design.
Now, this will be a total doozy for the IP lawyers. On the one hand, we have the line between being inspired by Disney’s Tiki room and just copying their IP. On the other hand, we have Disney perhaps using something he designed himself. Now, Andrew is successfully selling the design, as well. You can check out the model on Thingiverse here.
Now, I’m not sure what the outcome of this would be if it ever went to court. I suspect that it could be very different depending on where that court was located. If you wish to know more, you can check out Martin’s TikTok where he lays out his case. Essentially, he alleges that the company stole his file and ended up making a collectible that it subsequently sold.
Regardless of who is right here, this story has very fascinating and important implications for all of us. We need platforms that establish our rights, sharing and who made what when. If we could have sites that accurately serve to protect and establish design rights and other IP, it would be a boon to true creators. Services such as EUIPO allow you to establish design rights. But what if an alternative could be faster or cheaper or more accessible? Indeed, what if it could be done more publicly?
In part, the Ponzi scheme inside a Ponzi scheme inside a Ponzi scheme that is the NFT market purports to establish a single digital right to a digital item. This is all rather optimistically and, more importantly, speculatively implemented. Indeed, several artist friends have lots of problems with OpenSeas and other NFT platforms because users take their work and sell it there. These platforms only slowly cooperate, but the theft still continues. Also a public blockchain “registration” of a work is very energy intensive and unsustainable. When player’s focus only on making a market, not on protecting creators, we will never really have a true system in place that is equitable.
What we need is more a piece of infrastructure where the work itself contains information on when it was made, which is then tied to said work and publicly registered. Erik de Bruin, a visionary cofounder of Ultimaker, came up with something like it as an idea in 2014. The concept was to create a piece of infrastructure for registering the file on a blockchain. I myself in 2013 came up with the sDNA idea to encapsulate attribution plus possible variants all in one file. Here is a Quora answer that expounds on that idea.
Essentially, by using an XML or similar file, one could,
“…become something akin to a language at one point. By being XML-based it already has many of the necessary language elements in it and it can also easily be expanded upon. In the final analysis it would be valuable to have programmable objects and to have the design of the object also reflect all the relevant information the object would need in order to function or be made. This is especially true if one were to use several processes or materials and will become more logical once objects made with 3D printing become more complex. By making the object’s instructions programmable you could have one language for design and functionality. Hopefully we can also replace the antiquated Gcode and include all the required manufacturing instructions in the file (including, pause/load different material etc.) Then you could also add behavioral or functional elements to the object and make it programmable. That way one file will include all off the elements needed and AMF would become more like machine DNA than a filetype/language. Eventually we’ll need a DNA for things anyway. We could call it sDNA for Stuff DNA.
“You could save a design for a robot. Define all the materials and show where what material needs to go, define all the process steps and the toolpaths. Then the printer would print plastic on the arms, battery material where the battery needs to go, conductive material where the electrical connections are, softer material where the buttons are etc. This encapsulated information could also tell you what equipment or material would be needed for the part to be made. Another person could then change the color of the robot, easily add another arm, scale it etc. by just using the file and the relatively easy XML-type syntax. You could even (but this would be bulky) include the AI or other instructions for the part/machine in the file format. If you do it in this way you have one central registry of all the relevant data for the part in one place.”
So, what if we made something like sDNA to encapsulate all of the manufacturing information, plus all of the history, attribution, and rights in one file. We’d then have to register this file in a public and unalterable way. Obviously, today we’d call for a blockchain solution, but alternatives that could work as well with greater efficiency are welcome.
Once we’d have a piece of infrastructure in the format for sDNA and a Chain that registers all of these items, we could establish publicly once and for all who invented what when. Crucially, this infrastructure should be a public good and kept functioning by all participants. But it should not benefit from speculation or asset bubbles. Onto of this, you could build services such as this idea for a Netflix for open source music. Crucially, in order to function well, these kinds of spinal cords for art and design should not be made by the crypto crowd because then we’d all just be a part of a giant pump-and-dump scheme. If we could establish this, we could take on the established monopolists in direct terms.
The distributor should not be in charge and content distribution companies should not have a near-monopoly on all we see and hear. What’s more, we should no longer just be able to consume data. We should be able to create. We should not have our dreams infiltrated by copyrighted heroes. We should not grow up just drawing the cookie cutter creations that they make, palatable to the world’s advertisers and dictatorships.
We should make our own heroes. We should enable individuals to create using their skills. We should enshrine their contribution and make sure that all know who made what when. We should inspire each other and remix all of culture. Each image should be open for us to use, reuse, and change. Culture and ideas should flow freely as they did in the Middle Ages (disregarding the control of the Papacy and various monarchs). You should be allowed to copy like a Renaissance master or make similar work like an impressionist. We should all be able to use anything to make anything we need.
In short, it’s a struggle between us against them and they’re winning over control of our dreams, art, and culture. We need to fight back. The infrastructure for culture should be in the hands of the free. Thoughts, ideas and technologies should flow around the world unencumbered. In a world of frictionless, but attributed, information, the makers and consumers will profit through an endless supply of new work.
In short: Let’s kill Disney. We need to kill Disney before it kills us. We must defeat it before we can no longer think without it defining what good is, what a hero is, what beauty is, what the future is.
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