Your Printer is Like iTunes: DRM & the 3D Printing “Revolution”

By Fred Chasen, Isha Dandavate, Sydney Friedman, Vanessa McAfee, Morgan Wallace

So how is your printer like iTunes? Well, it isn’t yet. But as 3D printing has entered the market, it opens up a host of legal questions that are similar to those faced by applications and hardware companies that facilitate the consumption of mp3s. So, just as the courts use past precedents to address unfamiliar issues brought about by new technology, we consider previous approaches to DRM and personal use to shed light upon the opportunities and potential copyright issues brought about by 3D printing.

What’s the issue?
Advances in 3D printing and modeling have allowed people to easily use a personal computer for the purpose of creating physical objects. With these advances there is a growing market for “recipes” that a person can download and use as blueprints for printing. So, the issue is whether the sharing and use of these downloaded recipes files could potentially infringe upon copyright, and how digital rights management (DRM) should/could be leveraged to bring a balance between consumer expectations and vendor copyrights.

The exact way in which the DRM will function for these recipe files is still mostly theoretical. Intellectual Ventures has been awarded a patent on 3D printing rights management, but the company has not actually created a DRM system. From their track record as alleged “patent trolls,” it seems that Intellectual Ventures is banking on interest from other companies who will license the patent to create such a system.

Why is this important?
As 3D printing penetrates the mass market, it could potentially impact the market for a wide range of products, assuming that anything from guns to baby strollers could be printed. Giving the mass market an ability to produce objects once available only through manufacturers and retailers raises questions around copyright, DRM, and expectations for personal use.

The question also arises, what happens when a printer is able to make derivative works? This problem arose in this week’s assigned reading, when the Kindle 2 added a text-to-speech feature that could potentially replace the audiobooks market. In the context of 3D printing, would DRM prevent users from excerpting or transforming parts of the recipes? And does this functionality fall in the realm of reasonable expectations for personal use?

As we see in the entertainment space, efforts have been made to outline reasonable expectations of personal use. Mulligan et. al. argue in “How DRM-Based Content Delivery Systems Disrupt Expectations of ‘Personal Use’” that the music DRM has handicapped personal and fair use by limiting sharing and other functionality necessary for engaging with music. So we can conclude that there is a paramount need for evaluating reasonable expectations of personal use in the context of 3D printing in order to ensure that copyright interests are reconciled with consumer expectations for use.

Arguments & Implications

The scope and nature of 3D printing is arguably larger and more varied than that of music consumption– there are a limited set of ways in which people can consume music, but with 3D printing, the types of objects that could be printed are potentially infinite. Accordingly, the expectations of personal use of 3D printers would be varied depending on what is being printed. This makes it difficult to assess the reasonable expectations of personal use for the act of 3D printing.

So we break down the issue at hand and consider, most specifically, protection of the copyrights on the files (recipes) used to print rather than the printed objects themselves, therefore, considerations from DRM in the entertainment industry could be applied here. DRM, if implemented for these files, will likely prevent unauthorized sharing of a recipe, and place a limit on the number of times a recipe can be printed and on how many systems the recipe can be used on, just as music DRM does now. We argue that the future DRM system should be implemented in a way that is consistent with consumer’s expectations of personal use which, as defined by Mulligan et. al., include portability of files, excerpting and modifying files, and a limited relationship between users and copyright holders.

It is reasonable to expect that consumers will want to treat their 3D design files as they do other files on their computer. Portability will be important as consumers might expect to be able to e-mail designs to friends and family, store design files on their mobile phones or cloud storage systems, or use multiple 3D printers. It is also reasonable to assume that consumers may want to modify designs by either changing the physical properties of an object such as size or type of material. If DRM is implemented, designers should consider these expected personal use cases and implement the system in a way that prevents users from unknowingly violating copyright law.

Mulligan et. al. also discuss the shift in privacy under new DRM-based systems.  Instead of purchases being nearly anonymous to the copyright holder as they are in cash purchases from a distributor, information is collected directly by copyright holders.  In the DRM-based environment, copyright holders will construct business models around their interest of selling licenses, not physical goods.  The area of digital printing can easily go this way as well.  If implemented, users will have to go directly to the copyright holder to seek permission to print an object.  The copyright holders will soon be able to evaluate, take statistics and tailor their models to this new market, which will surely clash with distribution models seen previously.  Therefore, consumers will have to adjust to new expectations of privacy under the new copyright holder-led model.


As argued by Mulligan et. al., DRM must be refined to reflect the balance of copyright law. While courts wish to further progress of science and the useful arts by allowing authors to protect their work, there is also a limitations on the scope of copyright protections for the sake of consumers. Designing a system that is better tailored to suit the interest of both parties would include allowing for file sharing between parties (in a limited, reasonable way), allowing for “unlimited” file copying in ways that still create time and energy costs for users, allowing for transformation of the recipes created, and als protecting user privacy.

Like the development of the mp3 player, 3D printing will make possible a host of ways in which users and copyright holders can interact and transact business. However, it could also encourage copyright holders to implement stringent limitations on user experience. By more clearly defining legally reasonable expectations for personal use, technologists, policy makers and the courts will protect the balance of copyright law.

Digital Copyright in the Internet Age – Google, Publishers Settle Book-Digitization Dispute

Authors: Luis Aguilar, Ajeeta Dhole, Kate Hsiao, Matthias Jaime, Lisa Jervis


This week publishers and Google reached a settlement in the long-running copyright infringement case, according to

Google Books, formerly known as Google Print, is a service from Google Inc. that searches works that Google has scanned and stored in its database. Back to 2005, writers and publishers sued Google, claiming that digitizing the world’s books was an infringement of copyright. However, Google claimed that scanning and indexing the copyrighted works without the copyright owners’ consent should be seen as fair use.

After years of debate, the settlement with Google and the publishers finally turned out. The settlement allowed the U.S. publishers to choose to make available of or remove their works in Google Books. When it comes to the selling on the Internet, the rights holders will get 67 percent of the take and Google gets the remainder. (The dispute with authors is still outstanding.)

Why It’s Important

The most immediate consequence of this settlement is that it will allow Google to start selling digitized books on Google Play and display 20 percent of the text . The agreement will include works from some of the biggest names in publishing including McGraw-Hill Companies, Pearson Education, Penguin Group, John Wiley & Sons and Simon & Schuster. For consumers and copyright holders then, it would seem this result will be mutually beneficial.

However, this settlement is an extension of a previous agreement rejected in Federal courts last year. In that agreement, the issue that led to government intervention regarded orphan works, books whose copyright holders cannot be found.  Under the original settlement, Google had claimed orphan works are too available under fair use and would index and make them available for sale online. Judge Chin who oversaw the settlement disagreed, stating, “the ASA would give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission, while releasing claims well beyond those presented in the case.” (pdf)

With this new settlement, the issue of orphan works is still not resolved, nor are Google’s claims to access copyrighted books under fair use. Fair use is defined as the use of a copyrighted work for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research, and it is not an infringement of copyright. It remains to be seen if Google can successfully claim its actions comply with the court’s interpretation.

Point Counterpoint

Why the Google Settlement is Bad

Though it doesn’t carry the weight of law or legal precedent, the overall message
of this settlement is that Google is an 800-pound gorilla that can successfully
leverage illegal tactics to make business deals. Perhaps even more important, their
contention that the Library Project scanning was fair use will not be tested in court.
And the fair use argument here is unconvincing: Section 107 paragraph (1)’s test
of purpose of copying is not met; adding massive amounts of valuable copyrighted
content to its search results clearly serves a business purpose (this contention is
buttressed by the part of the settlement deal allowing Google to sell the digitized
works in the Play store). Neither is paragraph (3)’s metric of the amount of work
used; a strong argument can be made that twenty percent of a book is a substantial
portion. Paragraph (4), concerning effect on the market, also poses a problem
for Google’s argument, a providing that much content for free surely diminishes
customer demand.

An actual court test of this argument would have been helpful for copyright holders
to maintain their rights to control their content when that control is under constant
threat by the fast pace of technological change. If decided properly, it would have
established a legal environment that encourages content-sharing partnerships
negotiated up front, rather than an approach that rewards infringement with a
better negotiating position.

Why the Google Settlement Is Good

While the publisher-challenged “fair use” scope of the lawsuit may have been too broad since it included any book types, we cannot disregard the helpfulness of Google’s scanning and indexing technology for one very specific fair use purpose: education. Without such indexing, if (for example) a specific difficult programming concept emerged, a student generally has only had the class’s assigned book to aid in understanding the concept. If the book doesn’t help, it is a tedious process to find other reference material due to the specificity of the concept, the lack of adequate search capability for reference material, and cost. 17 USC § 107 states “…the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies…for purposes such as…scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.” Google’s scanning project provides a technology whereby it not only becomes easier to find more relevant material because of the more powerful indexing and breadth of what’s available, it also allows review of reference introductions and indexes which will give a much better indicator as to the depth of the explanations and audience level. This is not to concede that Google’s “fair use” defense is a valid one, since their scanning and indexing technology was created to bust into the e-book market like Kool-Aid Man into a late ’70s living room. But it is a strong defense of their technology, which replaces woefully inadequate methods that help students find relevant material that crosses business, library and publisher borders.


While the settlement has broad implications in the overall message that it conveys, it is important to recognize that this particular settlement is only limited to the works of select publishers that are party to the settlement. (The dispute with some authors, through the Author’s Guild, is still ongoing.) It allows Google to continue digitizing works of the said publishers, gives the latter the option of not making their works available to Google, and possibly establishes a business contract between the two parties that allows both to commercially benefit from the sale of the digitized books via the Google Play store. The Google Play store provides the publishers an established and reputable platform as an additional avenue to market and sell their works for improved sales and profits. The settlement does not give Google the legal rights to monetize copyrighted works that are outside the purview of the settlement. The publishers involved in this settlement are heavyweights of the publishing world, and if they so chose, they could have contested the settlement further, on an equal footing with the behemoth that is Google. Also, while Google has an advantage in that it has a head-start in the digital publishing landscape due to its ongoing digitization efforts since 2005, it cannot be termed as an unfair advantage, as this or similar settlements do not preclude any other Google competitor from negotiating similar or better deals with the publishers.

However, as discussed earlier, the settlement also means a lost opportunity to legally test and answer some important questions around digitization of copyrighted works—whether Google was originally, legally justified under the ‘fair use’ clause in its unauthorized reproduction and digital publishing of 20% of the copyrighted works, especially as Google is a for-profit company and, regardless of their stated intent of creating “a universal digital library with a searchable index for a wealth of new information”, indexing information contained in the books would clearly improve their search results and benefit them commercially. Also, the settlement does not resolve this dispute for other works that are not included under this settlement, or provide legal answers on who owns the copyright for ‘orphaned works’ whose copyright has expired or is unknown. We look to the pending litigation of Google vs. Author’s Guild to provide more definitive, legal answers on these issues.