The Shapeways business model is smart one in that it gives people who may normally have it access to 3D printing technology. It also allows these creative types a showcase to sell these creations, essentially positioning itself as something of an Etsy for those who like to create in three dimensions. Because of the mountains of trademark infringement potential in 3D printing–what’s that? You want to make your line of Star Wars figures? I doubt Disney/George Lucas would approve–it’s not really surprising a story like this has come to light.
What we have is someone who clearly enjoyed Square’s smash hit Final Fantasy VII; so much so, in fact, the Shapeways user decided to create, and sell, his own line of figures from the game that were designed to look like their polygon model counterparts.
Needless to say, once Square Enix found out, they unleashed their lawyers, who were armed with takedown requests. As pointed out by CNet, the figures gained popularity thanks to a post on Reddit, naturally. Once Reddit thrust these figures into the viral blender–the post had almost 2200 upvotes and 900 comments–it was only a matter of time before the creators of the Final Fantasy universe got involved and called on their Knights of the Takedown summons to put an end to the creator’s–Joaquin Baldwin–intellectual property infringement.
The hosting site and Baldwin were understandably quick to comply with Square Enix’s request:
“Standard procedure,” Baldwin told [CNet] in an e-mail, “just like a video in YouTube using copyrighted music can be pulled down.” It all happened very fast, he said. “I only made that whole set recently, and I posted the full new set of secondary characters two days ago, when I guess I exploded the Internet.”
The question is, if Baldwin wasn’t profiting from his Final Fantasy VII creations, would infringement be taking place? What if he was giving them away instead of selling them? Granted, there’s no incentive to do so in a world that runs on money, but this particular issue is not going away when 3D printing is involved. If you are capable of loading a model the printer can render, you can create pretty much anything you have the material for. How do you control a technology that can render the entire trademark and patent system null and void?
While the technology is still in its infancy, it is much easier to control. Imagine, however, if it ever gets the propagation equivalent to Facebook or iPhones. That whole “You Wouldn’t Download a Car” meme would be tested on an around-the-clock basis. In other news, this (and many, many others like it) has been on YouTube for some time.
Apparently, Square Enix is selective about protecting its IP.