As keen fans make and distribute models of protected intellectual property, copyright-owners are mulling their response
THREE-DIMENSIONAL (3D) printers have proliferated in homes, schools and workplaces over the past five years. Last year more than 420,000 desktop-sized 3D printers, which make things by depositing one thin layer of material over another, much as printers ink a page one line at a time, were sold. Combined with the increased availability of 3D scanners and free 3D-modelling software, this has led to a proliferation of 3D-printed models available online. They are found on sites such as Shapeways, where customers can order tools and toys “printed” from models, or Thingiverse, where people with 3D printers share models among themselves. Some designs, such as Pokémon chess sets or mini-Millennium Falcons, are based on intellectual property (IP) that belongs to companies—in this case Nintendo and Disney—known for guarding their copyrights jealously. How are companies dealing with the latest threat to their IP?