Legal and Regulatory

U.S. Copyright Office amends act in favor of open 3D printer materials

The U.S. Copyright Office has made an amendment to an existing act that prevented the use of non-manufacturer approved feedstocks in 3D printers.

Upon the advice of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the act has been amended due to its potential to inhibit much-needed material innovation.

As David Redl, NTIA Administrator and Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information, writes in the official press release on the amendment, “Protecting intellectual property rights is a critical government responsibility that helps grow our economy,”

“It is equally as important to ensure that measures intended to protect these rights aren’t misused to stifle innovation or the free flow of information.”

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act

Passed in 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is intended to protect intellectual property (IP) and extend the reach of the nation’s existing copyright law within the digital sphere. Activity deemed criminal under the DMCA includes:

– The production and distribution of devices, services or technology that bypass existing measures to protect access to copyrighted works.

– And the act of circumventing such access control whether copyright infringement is committed or not.

One example case of alleged DMCA violation is Vernor v. Autodesk, Inc. In this case Timothy S. Vernor attempted to sell used Autodesk software via eBay. Autodesk opposed his sale and Vernor attempted to sue the company for abusing the DMCA. When heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals, the final ruling was that software users are merely licensees of the programs without the authority to resell the software.

The U.S. Copyright Office Seal. Image via the U.S. Library of Congress
The U.S. Copyright Office Seal. Image via the U.S. Library of Congress

Exemptions for innovation

Rather than leaving the power exclusively in the hands of IP holders however, there are a number of exemptions to the DMCA.

Initially exemptions included nonprofit libraries, encryption, protection of minors, personal privacy, security testing and reverse engineering. To keep the act up to date, the exemptions are reviewed by the NTIA every three years, after which it sends advice to the U.S. Copyright Office for amendment.

According to the NTIA, this most recent update to the exemptions “help balance intellectual property rights and the right to make non-infringing uses of lawfully obtained works, both of which are critical to innovation.”

In one amendment, the DMCA now allows people access computer programs that control cars and farming vehicles for the purpose of repair. With reasoning that has potential impact for the 3D printed spare part community, “The expanded exemption,” as explained by the Disruptive Competition Project, “thus prevents automobile manufacturers from monopolizing the market for repairing their vehicles.”

A selection of 3D printed mechanical parts. Photo via Spare Parts 3D.
A selection of 3D printed mechanical parts. Photo via Spare Parts 3D.

In a further amendment directly related to 3D printing, 3D printers that produce goods subject to regulatory oversight are now exempt from a restriction on access to the filaments they use. The exemption now means that all users, whether 3D printing for personal use or market use, are free to use third party or homegrown feedstocks and access the relevant controls that would allow them to do so. In the case of production grade products, the process and objects must still of course be compliant with other relevant regulations.

3D printing needs materials

Materials is still a much-needed area of innovation for the 3D printing industry. As such, some OEMs have adopted “open materials” approaches for their hardware actively encouraging users to formulate and trial their own feedstock for 3D printing.

3D printer material development initiatives also operate as part of government objectives. Pursuing the call for greener, more sustainable 3D printer feeds in automotive and construction, the European Union launched Project BARBARA with €2.7 million in Horizon 2020 funds. Further, the HP-NTU Digital Manufacturing Corporate Lab in Singapore, the UK’s Royce Translational Centre and the U.S. National Center for Manufacturing Sciences are just a handful of the most recent facilities to receive a significant amount funding for enhanced additive manufacturing materials research, both in polymers and metals.

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Featured image shows a selection of multicolored 3D printer filaments. Photo via Filaments Directory