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3D Printing May Lead to 'Physible' 3D Piracy

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. | Last updated on

Could 3D printing make 3D piracy the new norm? You probably never envisioned the day when you could "print" out a three-dimensional object. It certainly seems futuristic.

Well, brace yourself. The future has arrived.

Infamous torrent site The Pirate Bay recently blogged about 3D printing. The site's writers believe that the next step in sharing and copying won't center on copyrighted movies or music. The next frontier? Downloading actual, physical objects via torrent files called "physibles."

This idea would have been considered ludicrous in past decades. But in the 21st century, there are 3D printers currently capable of processing files and reproducing 3D objects. Is this the next frontier of digital piracy?

It could be. The Pirate Bay has already launched its section of downloadable "physibles." There are a few different objects currently available. One is a replica of a pirate ship, The Pirate Bay's logo. Another is a tank.

All of these sound rather innocent. But what if other files started cropping up? What about a file containing the specs for a patented tool? Or, a "physible" that lets you print out a 3D model of a copyrighted design?

Unsurprisingly, 3D design files have already faced some legal scrutiny. Dutch designer Ulrich Schwanitz created a three-dimensional design of the Penrose Triangle a few years ago. He sold his design through a company called Shapeways for $70.

Another 3D modeler saw Schwanitz's design and figured out how to recreate it. That man posted instructions on a website called Thingverse. Schwanitz then issued a takedown notice -- which he later retracted.

Yet Schwanitz's actions certainly opened up a can of worms, as Ars Technica analyzed. It also underscored the possible IP implications that come with sharing 3D objects.

Of course, 3D piracy likely won't take off for a while. The cost of the hardware is high: 3D printers alone can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. But perhaps "physibles" and 3D objects will be the next frontier of sharing -- and a future form of piracy as well.

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