My colleague Michael Weinberg at Public Knowledge has written a truly awesome piece on 3D Printing and how folks should organize now to prevent the IP Mafia from screwing it up. You can see the full white paper here.
For those unfamiliar with it, 3D printing is the closest thing yet to the Star Trek replicator. You place a physical item in the machine and the machine makes a replica. As explained in the article, we are now at the point where 3D printing can replicate devices with moving parts. You can get a lot more info on 3D printing on PK’s issue page. There are a lot of very obvious advantages to this technology and many potential cool applications — especially as the technology advances. It also challenges a lot of business models and assumptions based on existing copyright, trademark, and patent law.
More below . . .
“So what if folks get sore that a new technology may screw up their business models,” I hear you cry. “We have copyright law, patent law, and trademark law today. They clearly apply. If someone starts copying Fred’s patent widget, then Fred can sue for infringement. Same with trademark and — if it even applies — copyright.”
Well said, my imaginary reader! However, history shows us that the IP Mafia do not content themselves with watching technology unfold and adapt, or even content themselves with trying to sue potentially disruptive technology out of existence. To the contrary, as soon as it penetrates their awareness that a new technology creates challenges to the world they understand they gather in a veritable cloud and swarm our nation’s capital determined to crush the new technology or — even better — cripple, tame and domestic it for more “benign” purposes. Examples over the last several years include the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 (which killed Digital Audio Tapes as a viable technology and drove up the price of music CDs for years), the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, and the Anti-Cybersquating and Consumer Protection Act of 1999. While none of these are as successful as the IP Mafia might wish, all of them imposed a lot of costs and restrictions on emerging technologies that fundamentally altered their development.
Hence the need for Weinberg’s white paper. Historically, efforts to block the IP Mafia from dictating the law to suit their fancy suffered from two factors. First, Members of Congress are not generally early adopters up on the nuances of new technology and how such things can create jobs, create products to sell, and generally make their constituents better off. Usually the first exposure members of Congress have to a new technology is from major campaign contributors screaming that Evil Pirates With No Respect for Law and Civilization — probably in league with child pornographers and terrorists — are doing Horrible Thing that costs Honest American Businesses squindoodles of dollars. Second, people who actually know anything about the new technology who could explain things Don’t Want to Get Involved. While we’ve made some strides on that in recent years, it’s still a very real problem.
Weinberg’s white paper, “It Will Be Awesome If They Don’t Screw It Up: 3D Printing, intellectual Property, and the Fight Over The Next Generation Of Disruptive Technology,” provides both an explanation of the technology for folks in Policyland and a rallying cry for people interested in the future of 3D Printing. As Weinberg observes in this blog post, not everyone welcomes disruptive technologies. Or, as Robert Heinlein observed in his short story Life-Line long ago:
There has grown in the minds of certain groups in this country the idea that just because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with guaranteeing such a profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is supported by neither statute or common law. Neither corporations or individuals have the right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.
That we will have discussion on this in Policyland is inevitable. Ideally, it will be an extensive and informed debate, with interests on all sides represented in the discussion. But that only happens if the relevant communities show up. If only one side shows up in force, then that side prevails. Hopefully, the 3D Printing Community will take Weinberg’s lesson and warning to heart and organize themselves now, rather than scrambling after it becomes too late for anything but damage control.
Stay tuned . . . .