An interesting debate is emerging in the US Copyright Office: what, if anything, should the US Copyright Office do about the materials that are used in 3D printers?
Under Section 1201 of the Copyright Act, “No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.” In the past, this provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was used by inkjet manufacturers to justify vendor lock in, that is, integrated circuit or other digital rights protection mechanisms that force consumers to buy refill cartridges from the inkjet manufacturer. Courts previously found that these inkjet manufacturers could not use the DMCA offensively in this matter. But, much like the ink jet printer cartridges of the past, 3D printer manufacturers are now actively lobbying the US Copyright Office to adopt regulations that would allow them to claim that the use of unauthorized third-party 3D printer materials constitutes a violation of the DMCA.
In a recent administrative proceeding in front of the Copyright Office, which was intended to determine whether an exemption to Section 1201 should be granted for third-party 3D printer refills (among other things), 3D printer manufacturers asserted their fears, which included a lack of control to ensure a quality product. To connect their commercial wants with Section 1201, 3D printer manufacturers have expressed concern that unauthorized third-party refills would necessarily have to “circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title,” which, in this case, would likely be the digital rights management software code itself.
3D printer manufacturer Stratasys appeared at the Copyright Office hearing on behalf of the 3D printer industry, and Public Knowledge, among others, appeared on behalf of consumers seeking interoperability. We will keep you updated on further developments in this area.