Digital Pirates, 3D Printing and the End of Copyright

Wait until you see what happens when the debate over copyright is extended beyond music, film, video games and books and into the realm of physical objects like sneakers and toys.

If you think the copyright wars over SOPA and PIPA that resulted in the Wikipedia Blackout were contentious, wait until you see what happens when the debate over copyright is extended beyond music, film, video games and books and into the realm of physical objects like sneakers and toys. The Pirate Bay - without question one of the most controversial sites on the Internet for its full-on embrace of digital piracy – just announced plans to introduce a new content category of torrents for sharing 3D printing designs. In layman's terms, if you have a 3D printer, you will now be able to download digital designs for some objects the same way you download digital music and then print out physical objects for free.


That's right, the war over copyright is about to go 3D.

On one hand are the people who would benefit from free access to these “physibles” – essentially digital files with instructions that tell you exactly how to print out something in the physical world. On the other hand are the designers and creators who would stand to lose from their designs entering the public domain. While the whole notion of "physibles" is literally brand new, it appears to be the same argument as in the digital media space: artists and content creators want to get paid for their work, but content consumers don’t want to pay if they don't have to. Does this mean that the marginal cost of creating any physical product will become zero, just as in the digital media space?

Until 3D printing takes off in the mainstream, however, the fight is likely to be low-key and waged on the fringes of the Internet. For now, two of the most popular items in The Pirate Bay's "physibles" category are lawn darts and the 1970 Chevelle Hot Rod. Most people use 3D printers to print things like plastic desk toys. In the future, however, people may be printing everything from their next pair of sneakers to spare parts for their vehicles. In the future, everyone will be a craft manufacturer, printing out whatever they need, when they need it, in the comfort of their own garage (or wherever else they hook up their 3D printer).

That’s certainly the vision of The Pirate Bay:

"We believe that the next step in copying will be made from digital form into physical form. It will be physical objects. Or as we decided to call them: Physibles. Data objects that are able (and feasible) to become physical. We believe that things like three dimensional printers, scanners and such are just the first step. We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare sparts for your vehicles. You will download your sneakers within 20 years. [...] The benefit to society is huge. No more shipping huge amount of products around the world. No more shipping the broken products back. No more child labour. We'll be able to print food for hungry people. We'll be able to share not only a recipe, but the full meal. We'll be able to actually copy that floppy, if we needed one."

Essentially, once you break down physical objects into their digital source code, you can share them with whomever you want. Think of this digital source code as the "DNA" of a product - if you know the proper DNA sequence for an object, you can become its creator.

3D Printing, which is one of the most fascinating and least understood trends in the technology world heading into 2012, is about to encounter the same contentious debate over copyright that has plagued other digital media industries. If you think the Hollywood studios were angry when they found out that full copies of their blockbuster films were being downloaded and shared, imagine how angry a company like Nike might be when they find out that their world-class sneaker designs are being shared and printed out around the world. Imagine what will happen to the retail store experience when all the stocked items you might want at Target or Walmart are suddenly available on your home 3D printer for free. Yes, that's right, it would be “catastrophic.” Welcome to the world of 3D copyright.

image: Internet Pirate / Shutterstock

Related Articles
Playlists
Keep reading Show less

Five foods that increase your psychological well-being

These five main food groups are important for your brain's health and likely to boost the production of feel-good chemicals.

Mind & Brain

We all know eating “healthy” food is good for our physical health and can decrease our risk of developing diabetes, cancer, obesity and heart disease. What is not as well known is that eating healthy food is also good for our mental health and can decrease our risk of depression and anxiety.

Keep reading Show less

For the 99%, the lines are getting blurry

Infographics show the classes and anxieties in the supposedly classless U.S. economy.

What is the middle class now, anyway? (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs

For those of us who follow politics, we’re used to commentators referring to the President’s low approval rating as a surprise given the U.S.'s “booming” economy. This seeming disconnect, however, should really prompt us to reconsider the measurements by which we assess the health of an economy. With a robust U.S. stock market and GDP and low unemployment figures, it’s easy to see why some think all is well. But looking at real U.S. wages, which have remained stagnant—and have, thus, in effect gone down given rising costs from inflation—a very different picture emerges. For the 1%, the economy is booming. For the rest of us, it’s hard to even know where we stand. A recent study by Porch (a home-improvement company) of blue-collar vs. white-collar workers shows how traditional categories are becoming less distinct—the study references "new-collar" workers, who require technical certifications but not college degrees. And a set of recent infographics from CreditLoan capturing the thoughts of America’s middle class as defined by the Pew Research Center shows how confused we are.

Keep reading Show less