3D Piracy: Printing, Artists, and the Economy

The following is a guest post.

3D piracy will change everything about our world, especially if (or rather, when) the technology is developed that will allow average consumers the ability to print from their home, using a variety of materials. Not only can those with access to 3D printers already download files from the internet and simply “print” it out on their machine, but the technology is now available which allows 3D printers to simply scan an object and then replicate it. Although the material that 3D printers can use is limited for now, the types of materials that can be used in printing has grown enormously in recent years, and continues to expand at an astounding rate. Not too long ago 3D printers, or additive manufacturers, could only create products using plastics. Today however, the materials that can be used has already expanded to several metals, including aluminum, and titanium. The quick expansion of 3D technology doubtless means that in the near future users will be able to “copy” everything from LEVI jeans to battery parts and even weapon components.

In fact, there are already companies that offer 3D printing online for the average Joe, and it’s likely that at least some of the average consumer’s belongings have been manufactured using 3D technology. So should artists, designers, and inventors be frightened? Are copyright laws and the artists who use them threatened by this technology? According to Piratebay, an online website that specializes in pirated music, movies, and other copyrighted material, 3D printers will usher in a new day for online piracy, and in fact they’ve added a new “Physibles” section, where they hope to house a large number downloadable plans for physical, copyrighted goods (printable by a 3D “additive device”). Besides creating a new section for 3D piracy, the site has also declared that soon users will be able to download and print their own pirated sneakers.

However, according to the Economist, in an April 2012 article entitled, “A Third Industrial Revolution,” the outlook is actually not that dire for the creative inventors and artists of the future. The Economist makes a compelling point, that 3D printing will usher in a new industrial revolution and take the emphasis away from mass production and put it back on smaller, more individual-based production.

In this case, perhaps a new place for artisans, crafters, engineers, and artists will open up in the realm of customized design. 3D printing already enables mathematicians and others who perhaps lack traditional manual “artistic” skills to create and design artworks with their head and the help of a 3D printer. Hopefully, instead of threatening artists, 3D printing and 3D manufacturing will allow artists and others to be more creative, while also (as the Economist says) bring manufacturing jobs back to the highly skilled first-world countries such as the U.S.

Of course current copyright law will definitely be threatened and new rules and regulations will have to be devised because of the onslaught of 3D technology. The whole game is going to change. If artists can begin using the technology and figuring out ways to make it profitable, however, instead of fighting against it, they’ll be able to roll with the revolution and not squashed.

Carla Eaton has a B.A. in Mass Media with a Minor in Art and Design. She enjoys writing on the topics of business, technology, and design, and currently blogs for inkfarm.com, who specializes in Dell printer cartridges.