Piracy Threat for growth of 3D Printing

After placing a firm foot in the entertainment industry, the pirates are all set to venture into the 3D printing industry. As people are becoming more and more aware of the things that a 3D printer is capable of doing, the usage of this technology is gaining momentum. The explosion of 3D printing has opened the door to a world where potentially anything and everything can be made at home and so it can be rightfully said that anything can be pirated or copyright violated!

In the 3D printing industry there has been instances where people have attempted to recreate objects like the very famous and antic Aston Martin car to an  illusion of an object impossible to create, this trend shows that anything is possible, even the impossible. In the future, any new product design will be instantly copied, 3D scanned and re-sold, meaning that anyone will be able to own just about anything that too for free. This might sound a little futuristic but this will come true. And technology advances we are going back to the age old practices, where everything depended on sharing. History most certainly repeats itself. Bre Pettis, chief executive of 3D printing company Makerbot, most rightfully said, “I don’t think we need a marketplace. It’s a sharing world, we are at the dawn of the age of sharing where, even if you try to sell things, the world is going to share it anyway.”

There are various internet sites that are providing people with the necessary blue prints for 3D printing objects. The most recent one in the news was the torrent sharing website called “the Pirate Bay”, which gives everyone a file- sharing platform which in other words is a platform for exchanging 3D goods. Pirate Bay has a category for 3D printing objects which is known as the “physibles”. The other very famous site for sharing design files for 3D printing is thingiverse.com. On this site there are numerous downloadable digital blue prints which do cover a very wide range; right from Disney’s Yoda to custom key chains all is now available almost for free. In one of the most recent developments, a Belgian company Moulinsart discovered 3D printing designs of the cartoon rocket of the very famous cartoon character of Tintin on thingiverse.com. It immediately asked the company to take down the blue prints from the site. People are making guns or at least are trying to 3D print such objects. Another website known as the 3DLT was recently discovered as being the marketplace for 3D designs which has been stocking and selling design for 3D printed objects. The ironic thing is that the blueprints that are available on this site do not belong to the site nor do they have the rights to re-sell. 3DLT sells STL’s, which are fundamentally documents in the Standard Tessellation Language which is used by most of the 3D printers to print objects. In layman’s term, these STL files are the recipes or programs that are needed to build these physical things. An individual named Fernando Sosa who is a designer got a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notice from HBO, asking the designer to stop selling his 3D-printed Game of Thrones iPhone dock.

These are one of the few examples of the extent of piracy that is evident in this industry. This unauthorized copying and sharing of designs should be stopped right at the embryonic stage so that the emergence of the next Napster can be stopped. A startup based in Mountain View, California known as the Authentise has developed the first commercial solution to this theoretical problem. The software developed by Authentise makes it possible for a design to be sent to a 3-D printer in such a way that it can be printed only once, it cannot be copied or shared.The logic behind this is similar to the way Netfix sends the viewers at home a stream of video frames only as their computer needs them to play a movie. There are instructions that tell the 3D printer as to how to spurt out materials so that the desired 3D printed object can be achieved. Once this is done the files are automatically deleted restricting the user from copying or sharing the blueprints of the object. The company tries to do this by watermarking objects. The other company that is working on the same grounds is Dai-Nippon Printing Company which has developed a security program that prevents 3D printers from printing hazardous objects (like firearms and guns) and copyrighted objects. The security program will be used practically in 2017. The program is capable of cross checking the blue prints that are inserted in the 3D printer with a database of items that require legal permission for printing. If it detects a blacklisted item such as guns or copyrighted materials for printing it will immediately shut down the 3D printer. This blacklisted names list can be updated regularly.

On the other hand there are a few people who feel that it’s highly unlikely that counterfeit 3D printed objects will flood the market in the years to come. Those who believe on this, base their thinking on the 3 fold paths, which are:


There’s a lot of difference between the original object and a 3D printed object, despite of the evolution in the field of scanners, software and 3d printers it’s quite a challenging task to print something that is a high-quality replicas of cheap, mass produced physical things. Raw materials play the key role in the production process and with the given restrictions that exist with the usage of raw materials in 3D printers. It will be an uphill task for the 3D printers to rule the existing market.

Multimaterial World

Most of the things that we use in our day to day lives is an amalgamation of more than one thing, even the simple pencil is made of wood, graphite, rubber and metal. For a 3D printer to work with two different types materials, itself is a difficult task leave alone more than two materials. This limitation of materials will always limit the usage of 3D printers.


If the two problems stated above are somehow taken care of, there still remains the problem of time. 3D printing is a very slow process. In order to get a printout of something that is as simple as a plastic cup, the printer will take hours.

Both the sides might have their own way of looking at situation that exists in this industry. If 3D printing is all set to create a big change to objects as there have been changes in the music industry in the past, where everything could be pirated, then most certainly there could be some rough patches for the pirates as well as the right holders in the near future.

ImageCredit: Raúl Hernández González (flickr handle: rahego)

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