If you pony up enough money for a 3-D printer at home (and that’s not as much money as it used to be, as the newly released MakerBot Replicator proves), can you print whatever you like? The answer is that you can’t–at least, not without some risk of infringing someone’s copyright, as one 3-D printing fan found out last year when he created a CAD file that would allow a prop from the movie Super 8 to be printed via Shapeways. The shutdown of Megaupload underscores how sharp-toothed the argument about piracy has become, and 3-D printing is poised to be the next industry that gets intense oversight from corporate lawyers. The folks at Pirate Bay, home to countless torrents of every kind of media imaginable, intend to be at the cutting edge of that piracy discussion. They’ve announced that their site will host downloadable files for 3-D printed objects, a category they’ve named physibles. From the Pirate Bay site: “We believe that the next step in copying will be made from digital form into physical form. It will be physical objects. Or as we decided to call them: Physibles. Data objects that are able (and feasible) to become physical. We believe that things like three dimensional printers, scanners and such are just the first step. We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare parts for your vehicles. You will download your sneakers within 20 years.”
What companies like Audi and Adidas think about that idea could well shape the future of home-based 3-D printing. On the one hand, they may dive in and find it’s a great way to keep and build their customer bases; or they may fob off the argument to their general counsels and government lobbyists and threaten would-be DIYers with lawsuits. Either way, it seems that 3-D printing will mean a major change for hobbyists, corporations, and attorneys. Which way do you think things will go? New business paradigms, or send it to the lawyers?