The issues with 3D printers, the law and creativity
Technology is advancing at a rapid rate. While innovation is always a good thing, technological innovation can lead to a lot of murky grey areas in laws and how those laws are enforced. I have always felt that copyright has gotten in the way of true innovation. That isn’t to say that people’s ideas and works should not be protected, they absolutely should. However, too many restrictions create a society that can’t fully explore its creativity or share that creativity with others (collaboration and participation).
Where is the reward and incentive in creating something new and releasing it to the world, only to receive a cease and desist letter from a multi-million dollar corporation? These companies not only have the financial means to pursue the matter further, but can essentially scare people into pulling their creations off of design sharing sites such as Thingiverse without ever having to test the legal system in a court of law. This is what happened to Thomas Valenty in Clive Thompson’s article, 3-D Printing’s Legal Morass. After investing weeks into the design of a 3-D models, he made the files available through Thingiverse. However, after the files were put online and people started remixing his designs, lawyers showed up on behalf of Games Workshop (a game design company) who had the files removed from Thingiverse for violating the spirit of the game on which the models were based. Michael Weinberg, a senior staff attorney with Public Knowledge, a group that advocates for consumers’ digital rights, says this is not something copyright covers (Thompson, para. 12).
“I put a lot of work into [the designs]…the DMCA knocked the wind out of me…I haven’t uploaded many of my printable models since it happened” (Thompson, para. 2, 5). Thomas’ experiences with the legal ramifications of 3D printing and more broadly, ‘disruptive technologies’ is troubling. Not only does it encroach into the legal realm, but it also damages people’s ability to create and share their innovations with others. This should be a huge concern for libraries!
How does this affect libraries?Throughout this course we have explored the library as a collaborative and innovative space that using technology as a tool to create better services and new opportunities to engage with our users. Many libraries are offering users access to new technology such as gaming rooms, makerspaces and 3D printers (just to name a few). During our first social hour Prof. Stephens showed us a word art for the hyperlinked library and made special mention of one set of words in particular: Technology only a tool. I felt this was really well articulated in the Thompson reading in this module. According to Thompson, “3-D printers aren’t just about copying. They’re a powerful new tool for experimenting with the design of the physical world, for thinking, for generating new culture, for stretching our imaginations” (Thompson, para. 14).
These new technologies are a wonderful way to make the library a collaborative space for learning and teaching, making libraries an ideal 21st Century classroom. However, for these tools to be effective in teaching, implementation has to be well thought out and exercised. This is reflected in Hugh Rundle’s article Mission creep – a 3D printer will not save your library. I thought this article was a great read and bridged in many of the themes from the course. Randle addresses the fact that many libraries are adopting new technologies such as 3D printers, without a clear vision about why. This is a textbook example of technolust in libraries. Randle argues, “The harsh truth is that there is no business case for public libraries to provide 3D printing. What this is really about is technolust and the fear of being left behind” (Randle, para. 3). The Randle article is full of really interesting ideas that make one think about the services libraries provide: “libraries could provide any number of services that look a bit like our core business, but librarians need to ensure that they understand why they are providing them and what the ramifications are” (Randle, para. 4). We shouldn’t be investing in technology for technology’s sake, it won’t save our libraries.
Library as classroom
As a classroom, technologies such as 3D printing, gaming, and other new services provide a unique opportunity for our users to collaborate, create and share. While these technologies provide a unique opportunity for libraries to experiment with the design of the physical world, thinking, generating new culture, stretching our imaginations (Thompson, para. 14), we must also be aware of the legal issues surrounding new technologies and be advocates for user rights to make the most of these technologies. If we don’t, we risk limiting creativity and the sense of creation and exploration. As librarians, we also need to know how to effectively implement these technologies because, as mentioned earlier, technology is only a tool. These tools need to be used effectively to build libraries into 21st century classrooms.
Focus from Module 11 (Library as Classroom) readings
Anderson, C. (2012). The new MakerBot Replicator just might change your world.
Rundle, H. (2013). Mission creep – a 3D printer will not save your library.
Thompson, C. (2012). Clive Thompson on 3-D printing’s legal morass.
Williams, M. R. (2014). Kansas teen uses 3-D printer to make hand for boy.
Additional resources worth checking out
Lopez, L., Tweel, J. C., Troutwine, C., Klein, S., Gordon, S., O’Meara, D., Pettis, B., … Passion River Films,. (2014). Print the legend. (Available on Netflix)