Library as Classroom: 3D printers for creativity, exploration and collaboration

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).

3D printers are changing the way people create

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)

15 thoughts on “Library as Classroom: 3D printers for creativity, exploration and collaboration”

  1. Ryan you have brought up some very good points. While copyright has it’s place it can stifle creativity. It is something that we as librarians need to have a good understanding of to help our communities and advocate for our users. Thanks for bringing this up.

    • Thank you for your comment @christiechristophersen ! I think librarians are doing a decent job with advocating for user’s rights (at least in Canadian academic institutions) when it comes to copyright. I think 3D printing and other emerging technologies are forcing us to rethink a lot of the practices we had before.

  2. This is a strong examination of important issues we must face. So my Death Star, printed for me by friends in Australia and mailed up here, is probably in violation of something. Also, a friend on Facebook was making little miniature buildings from Logan’s Run and uploading the plans to print them but he stopped…just in case. I would err on the side of art/homage, myself….

    • @michael Let me start by saying that your 3D printed Death Star is awesome!

      Personally I think that these applications could be seen as educational. The work that people put into researching plans, designing them in programs like autoCAD, etc. I would argue fall under the realm of education (one of the exemptions under fair use). I’m not a lawyer so I can’t speak to it as a professional in that field.

      “the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

      the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;” (from the Fair Use Wikipedia entry:

      I’m a huge advocate for user rights when it comes to education and copyright. Since we were looking at Library as Classroom I would argue people are using 3D printing in many cases as an educational tool! People designed that Death Star from Star Wars by researching the plans and studying the architecture (learning and education in my book). Others may see it differently.

      I loved this quote from the Thompson reading, “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). Libraries can be that safe space for experimenting!

      • @ryantucci I like the way you think!

        So for the Logan’s Run example, a group might decide they want to recreate the city model and learn about it. If it was a real city, would it actually work with the buildings, maze cars, etc. (Can you tell I am a LR geek?)

        • @michael I think this could be completely doable!

          People are printing 3D models of cities and it would look something like this:
          or this

          It would have to be built in sections (and placed, almost like a puzzle) as the 3D printer is limited in how large the print could be.

          It would be a lot of work if you wanted to model the whole city. You would need to find either a blue print for the city, or people would have to draw one up themselves based on the film, or still images.

          From there, the city would have to be modeled in a program like autoCAD or something that has the ability to output .STL or .Thing files.

          I feel like it could be crowd sourced by a Logan’s Run fan group. I’m having flashbacks to LIBR 200 Information Communities! A Minecraft player years ago build a scale replica of the Star Ship Enterprise and built it to scale using blueprints found online. Once the frame was completed he crowd sourced individual floors to Minecraft players looking to get involved in the project.

          Original Video (warning I think there is some foul language at one point):

          Updated Video (I haven’t listened to the audio, may also contain foul language):

          The power of crowd sourcing!

          My apologies for the crash course response, I’m sure that I have really oversimplified the whole process of 3D printing.

          P.S.- People have really love their Star Trek!

  3. @ryantucci
    ” 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.”

    You bring up some really good points! I like the example of technolust as well.

    I know in the graphic novel land, you get away a lot with expanding on popular themes based on the parody angle. This kind of seems the same; taking an idea and making it your own. People have been doing this for years. The Japanese have come up with some really amazing technology because of this ability of being able to take something else someone has created and make it better. However, with the corporations having such deep pockets to make people cease and desist these days without having recourse is something we need to really think about! Maybe the ALA can help with this fight.

    We are never going to grow as a society if we keep stifling people’s creativity bc the corporations are worried they will lose a dollar!

    Thanks for the awesome post Ryan!

    • @krislib Thank you for your great comment! I’m stepping into the legal realm for this response. Not necessarily on topic for this course.

      Canada has recently adjusted their copyright law with the introduction of the Copyright Modernization Act (2012) . While in my opinion it still falls short of what the United States has in their copyright law, it brings it closer.

      Fair Use in the United States uses the phrase, ” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.” (I added emphasis on ‘such as’).

      In Canada Fair Dealing says, “Fair dealing for the purpose of research, private study, education, parody or satire does not infringe copyright.” ( In our Fair Dealing “such as” isn’t mentioned and in a legal sense this is huge and ultimately very restrictive.

      In Canada there is currently a lawsuit between Access Copyright, “a collective voice of creators and publishers in Canada. A non-profit, national organization, we represent tens of thousands of Canadian writers, visual artists and publishers, and their works” (from their website and York University. Here is a quick run down by University of Ottawa Law Professor Michael Geist (

      This is a huge issue for academic libraries all across Canada and one of the reasons that I am so interested in the legal implications of copyright, intellectual property, and libraries.

      P.S.- If interested…Here is a link to a response from the President of University of British Columbia to Writers’ Union of Canada. Included are links to the original letter sent, etc.

  4. @ryantucci, I’m a bit tardy to the conversation, but your thoughts about copyright and creativity are quite timely, as I’m taking INFO 281 on digital copyright. (Have you taken it? Highly recommended, although I wish it lasted a whole semester instead of a mere four weeks.) Turns out evaluating for fair use, at least in the US, is a big grey area. It was one of the hardest assignments for my class, where I had to analyze for the purpose of usage, nature of the work, amount used of the work, as well as the market impact — the Four Factors of Assessing Fair Use. 🙂

    Thanks also for sharing the Canadian links on fair dealing. I’m always interested in how intellectual property — and intellectual freedom — are treated in other countries.

    • @sairuh I haven’t taken INFO 281 yet but I might have to look into it. I used to work heavily with copyright here in Canada when I worked for the Course Reserves department. While there we had to evaluate fair dealing, clear copyright, etc. Very interesting stuff. It was nice to see Canada take steps toward user rights, I think there is huge room for improvements.

      Thank you for your interest!



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