Thingiverse “Free” Designs are Up for Sale on eBay Store
On February 18, designer Loubie uploaded a symbolic 3D print model “Sad Face” on Thingiverse,1 which has to date received more than 800 comments2 from largely disgruntled users. Loubie is a popular 3D designer on Thingiverse, a website dedicated to providing a platform where amateurs can share and distribute their 3D designs, downloadable and printable by the public, for free. While browsing on eBay, an ecommerce site, Loubie discovered 3D printed copies of one of her designs, “Aria the Dragon,” which carries a Creative Common Attribution Non-Commercial license.
The license is one of the four types of Creative Common licenses provided as an option to designers on Thingiverse. Essentially, the NC license dictates that credit must be given to the designer for any copies made, that the designs and printed models cannot be sold for profit, and that the design may not be altered in reproductions. Despite the fact that just3Dprint’s sale of Aria the Dragon to the public for profit clearly violates the Creative Common rules, Loubie received this message from the eBay store after inquiring about the product:
“When you uploaded your items onto Thingiverse for mass distribution, you lost all rights to them whatsoever. They entered what is known in the legal world as “public domain”.
The single exception to public domain rules are “original works of art”.
No court in the USA has yet ruled a CAD model an original work or art.
Therefore, you have no right to exclude others from utilizing the CAD models you have uploaded.
Furthermore, if in the future we do get a precedent in the USA for establishing CAD models as “original works of art”, we would still likely be just fine as we are not re-selling your CAD models, but rather “transformative” adaptions of them in the form of 3D printed objects.”
In response, just3Dprint defended itself in a statement of more than 3,500 words. They claimed that monetization on open source designs are widespread, and that their business provides a channel for the majority of the public who don’t own a 3D printer to purchase 3D printed products. They’ve even gone as far as accusing Thingiverse for violating the very “non-commercial license” they have created, which has no legal basis to begin with. Although Aria the Dragon has been removed from the store, other designers’ works are still up for sale.
As the popularity and accessibility of 3D printing technology rise, copyright, trademark, and even patent law issues will become ever more challenging for lawmakers to draw appropriate lines, and ever more difficult for businesses and individuals to evaluate risks and battle against infringement. 3D printing has the capability to confer extraordinary powers to everyday people, but the legal and commercial aspects of it are largely unregulated and at best in a gray zone. It is safe to predict that cases and lawsuits with circumstances similar to that between Loubie and just3Dprint will become more common. What are your thoughts on 3D printing technology and intellectual property? Is more legislation and regulation needed? Without stricter restrictions, will the free flow of information and the spread of innovation be compromised?
Benedict, 3D printing community rallies against eBay store selling 3D prints of Thingiverse designs without permission, 3ders.org (Feb. 21, 2016), http://www.3ders.org/articles/20160221-3d-printing-community-rallies-against-ebay-store-selling-3d-prints-of-thingiverse-designs.html [https://perma.cc/6JQ5-M2YC].
Scott J. Grunewald, MakerBot Responds to Shady eBay Store Selling Thingiverse Users’ 3D Models, 3DPrint.com (Feb. 24, 2016), http://3dprint.com/121262/makerbot-responds-to-jpi/ [https://perma.cc/T59W-DMWX].
John Biggs, 3D Printing Company Scrapes Thingiverse And Begins Selling “Free” Designs, TechCrunch (Feb. 23, 2016), http://techcrunch.com/2016/02/23/3d-printing-company-scrapes-thingiverse-and-begins-selling-free-designs/ [https://perma.cc/2QSN-XWQP].
Bridget Butler Millsaps, UK Study Assesses Legal and Industry Ramifications of 3D Printing & Intellectual Property, 3DPrint.com (Feb. 10, 2015), http://3dprint.com/42000/uk-study-legal-ramifications/ [https://perma.cc/6ZTC-A82S].
Juliana Reyes, Why 3D-printing giant MakerBot is super mad at this Philly startup, Technical.ly (Feb. 26, 2016), http://technical.ly/philly/2016/02/26/just-3d-print-makerbot/ [https://perma.cc/XP5W-JL9P].
John Newman, MakerBot Swings Back in Intellectual Property Fight, RapidReady (Feb. 25, 2016), http://www.rapidreadytech.com/2016/02/makerbot-swings-back-in-intellectual-property-fight/ [https://perma.cc/4NWB-4ZLP].