The next big lawsuit for file sharing?
While 3D printing is still an unknown for many people, there are some who are well aware of its capabilities and are already stockpiling 3D models downloaded from websites and file sharing programs.
Even though there are a number of places where 3D models can legally be downloaded, there are also some places appearing on the internet where files for models are being shared in much the same illegal ways that music and movie files have been and still are shared.
To make sure you're downloading legally acquired files, check out our guide to finding and using free downloadable 3D models.
Digital downloads have become a game changer for the music and book industries, essentially killing physical music sales and reducing book sales but ultimately creating iTunes, Amazon Kindle store, Spotify, etc. The same fate awaits physical products with millions of 3D objects being made available for download and home manufacture.
Already new companies have emerged that harness the potential of 3D printers. Just like iTunes and Amazon were able to see where music and book sales were headed, Shapeways has established itself as a major player in the 3D printing field and its popularity is only set to grow. Who or what else will emerge from 3D printing is yet to be seen, but we are already seeing more and more companies bringing 3D printers into their future business plans.
File sharing websites such as the PirateBay are already offering files in their new ‘physibles' category and no doubt more will follow their lead. The temptation to illegally download files is too great for many, and more and more files will undoubtedly flood the internet. This was shown when the American government asked for “the Liberator” 3D printed gun to be taken off the maker's site, and then it immediately appeared all over the internet. It's still not difficult today to find the controversial model for easy download.
For the time being, the PirateBay mostly offers “The Liberator” 3D printed gun and an assortment of adult toys. However, with more and more companies integrating 3D printing into their businesses, it's only a matter of time before a larger number of digital product files emerge and flood the internet. How soon before manufacturers see 3D object sharing as a problem remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure – its popularity is sure to grow, and with it another big lawsuit is sure to follow.
For the time being, 3D printing is under the radar of many people and companies alike, so not many people are out to catch 3D file sharers, but that's not to say you're not at risk. With the inevitable rise in popularity of 3D printing, don't be surprised to hear someone soon tell you they downloaded a picture frame or an iPhone case and made it at home – just be sure to know where your models are coming from.
Like music and video file sharing before it, 3D object file sharing will explode across the internet and there's little anyone can do about it. Our advice is to stick with object directories like Thingiverse and join a 3D printer community to learn how to build what you want yourself, without resorting to stealing other people's work.