3D Printing: another challenge for copyright owners

3D printing raises a number of issues for copyright owners already facing the challenges of the internet and other digital technologies. The photocopier copies documents. Digital technologies and the internet have resulted in the copying of films and music. Now with 3D printing, three dimensional articles can be easily copied. And the copies can be mass produced or custom made potentially depriving the copyright owner of substantial revenuesi.

While copying of articles has always been an issue for copyright laws, it is the potential scale of copying and the use of digital technology which may see the development of the law in this area.

Key points

  • Existing laws relating to the design copyright overlap will apply to the making of articles by 3D printing. With a few exceptions, the making of copy articles by 3D printing will not infringe copyright where the copyright owner has made and sold the article.
  • The provisions in the Copyright Act relating to “reverse engineering” (although not described as such) provide that it is not an infringement of copyright to make a drawing depicting an article as part of the process of making that article by reverse engineering if the making of the article itself does not infringe copyright.
  • However, the reverse engineering defence will not apply to the making of a copy of a digital file used in making the copy of the article because the digital file is a literary work and the relevant defence only applies to artistic works.
  • Copyright owners are likely to face challenges to the ownership of copyright in the digital files on the basis that it can be argued that there is no human author of the digital file.

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