Legal and Regulatory

LEGO 3D printing takedowns: a lawyer responds and LEGO replies

“Everything is not awesome” is how one fan responded to recent LEGO takedown notices issued to the 3D printing community.

3D Printing Industry has now received a reply from LEGO and further insight into the situation from an intellectual property law expert.

Responses from the 3D printing maker community have been varied, ranging from confusion about what LEGO is claiming has been infringed to disappointment that the company appears not to support creativity.

Hoping to gain some clarity, we reached out to LEGO again by telephone and email to see if they wished to answer some of the many questions circulating online and what popular YouTuber the 3D Printing Professor describes as “takedown without representation”. 

Specifically, we hoped to find out:

Why has LEGO issued DMCA* takedown notices against platforms and individuals sharing fan art made about Lego?

What would LEGO consider to be a fair use of the brand by a fan?

Is LEGO concerned about the chilling effect of issuing such takedown notices?

What does LEGO believe will be the impact on how fans perceive the brand after the issuance of these takedown notices?

Will LEGO be reconsidering the recent takedown notices?

While not addressing our questions directly Jonas Søndergård, Global Press Officer, The LEGO Group, Corporate Communications did provide a brief statement. Søndergård explained that while LEGO would not discuss specifics, the recent infringement notices were “to protect the long-term exclusive rights of the LEGO trademarks, copyrights and patents.”

LEGO says that issuing takedown notices and challenges is necessary to ensure that the “LEGO wordmark or IP protected elements” does not erode over time. LEGO’s “Fair Play Policy” describes a number of guidelines on how the company would like to be referred to, and what it deems permissible by enthusiasts. For example, “If the LEGO trademark is used at all, it should always be used as an adjective, not as a noun. For example, say “MODELS BUILT OF LEGO BRICKS”. Never say “MODELS BUILT OF LEGOs”. 

However, does this hold water?

A clearly bogus Lego found by Reddit user Bungicraft.
A clearly bogus Lego found by Reddit user Bungicraft.


An expert responds to the LEGO takedowns

I asked Michael Weinberg, Executive Director of the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law & Policy at NYU Law for his thoughts on the LEGO takedowns. Weinberg is particularly well placed to discuss this topic. He is the former General Counsel and IP Expert at Shapeways, is a board member of the Open Source Hardware Association and spent over half a decade with Public Knowledge, “a non-profit Washington, D.C.-based public interest group that is involved in intellectual property law, competition, and choice in the digital marketplace.” 

Weinberg believes that the takedowns, “may be a bit of a stretch on the part of Lego for some of the models targeted.” He continues, “While Lego has a trademark in the term ‘Lego,’ that does not give them the right to stop all uses of that word.”

“People are generally free to use a term like ‘Lego’ in order to show that a model is compatible with Lego bricks as long as their use does not create confusion that the person’s model actually comes from Lego. This is true even if the model is being sold commercially.

Lego also does not have rights in the basic shape of Lego-style bricks, or the ability to block people from making new models that are compatible with official Lego bricks.” 

Weinburg also notes that an interesting element of the LEGO takedowns is the combination of trademark and copyright concerns. An earlier interview with Weinberg and several other experts on 3D printing and intellectual property discusses these topics.  

Next move for the 3D printing community?

Frequent references to the “LEGO wordmark” has led to a community discussion about how best to describe 3D designs or fan art without falling foul of LEGO’s legal team. Alternative descriptions for interlocking bricks include PoCoBrick (POpular COnstruction Brick) and 3DGO.

MyMiniFactory has invited the 3D printing community to make suggestions to “help build better opportunities for indie designers and brands to work together as a form of co-creation” on a new blog post. The 3D file sharing platform is also running a competition entitled, #BeyondTheBrick.

MyMiniFactory Beyond the brick competition.
MyMiniFactory Beyond the brick competition.

Let us know your thoughts. You can follow us on Twitter here and receive our free daily 3D printing newsletter here. Looking for a career in the 3D printing sector? The 3D Printing Industry jobs site is free for enterprises and individuals. 

Featured image shows a clearly bogus Lego product found by Reddit user Bungicraft.

*These questions were sent to Lego before 3DPI had seen the takedown notices. Having seen the notices, we understand that DMCA is not referenced by name.