A recent controversy has erupted in the 3D printing world. Thingiverse member Louise Driggers posted a 3D model of a sad face, along with an article about a bad business practice happening online.
In her post, she found an ebay store called just3D print that had taken over 2,000 digital files from Thingiverse, and in their store posted the prints for sale.
It is clear that just3Dprint went through Thingiverse and cherry picked the most popular files to print. Just3Dprint also coped the original pictures from Thingiverse and re posted them as the pictures for the ebay listing.
The Copyright / Creative Commons License Issue
Just3Dprint’s ebay page is doing many things that are garnering the wrath of the 3D printing community.
First, the ebay pages do not have any Creative Commons attribution or credits. In fact, they don’t even have a product description. All of the ebay listings are just a generic advertisement for their 3D printing service.
The company makes no effort to acknowledge the author of the original file, or provide any CC attribution at all.
They are trying to 3D print files that they may DO NOT have permission to 3D print commercially.
In looking through just3Dprints ebay page, I’ll look at the page and original file, and whether just3Dprint can print the original file.
1. 3D printed orange screamer whistle
The origional ebay post is here. This whistle was featured on Thingiverse and designed by AndyGadget. The picture for the ebay page is a direct copy from the original Thingiverse page (without accreditation).
For CC, is licensed under the Creative Commons – Attribution – Non-Commercial license.
This means the file is not licensed for commercial sales.
2. R2-D2 Cookie Cutter
This file was taken from thingiverse user bluedynno. Again the picture was copied without accreditation.
This is licensed under the Creative Commons – Attribution – Share Alike license.
While this file can be modified, it still requires attribution.
It is not licensed for commercial sale. Again, Just3DPrint does not provide the required attribution.
3. Star Wars Coffee Stencil
This was designed by faberdasher. Again, the original picture was copied, and no attribution was given.
This is licensed under the Attribution – Non-Commercial – Share Alike license.
That means it is not licensed for commercial sale.
Like all others, the picture was copied without attribution.
In all three examples, Just3Dprint failed to provide attribution to the original designers. Just3Dprint also is selling the objects commercially, in violation of all 3 CC license posted. They also have blatantly copied and re-posted the original pictures without permission of the original photographer.
The hallmark of copyright law is that the author has the rights to their work. This has been proven for digital media like music and CAD designs as well as physical media.
Just3Dprint is also violating the copyright of the photographers whose photos they copy for the ebay listings.
In response to criticism, just3Dprint has been on the offensive in the comment section of Thingiverse and other social media. In response to one comment, they said,
“That is presuming the work [3D files] is copyrightable in the first place.”
Just3Dprint is jumping into a legal gray area here. Current copyright laws many not have language specifically for 3D printing files. Just3Dprint has called them “transformative adaptions” in an attempt to further muddy the legal waters.
Just3Dprint is also betting that lone 3D printers will not hire a lawyer to fight them in court for copyright violations.
One argument put forth by Just3Dprint is that the files posted on Thingiverse are in the Public Domain. But a quick search of the definition states,
“Works in the public domain are those whose exclusive intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable. For example, the works of Shakespeare and Beethoven, and most of the early silent films, are all now in the public domain by leaving the copyright term.”
There is nothing in Thingiverse that states that these files are public domain. According to Thingiverses Term of Service Use Agreement
“How the world can use your designs: outside of Thingiverse, you need to explain to others how they can use your content. You own it and the rights that attach so tell everyone how you will permit them to use it. One way to go is a Creative Commons License which, on the copyright spectrum, falls between “none” and “all”. Be advised: we may share your content with others. These “others” are supposed to follow your usage restrictions and we’ll tell them such. [Emphasis added by author] They may or may not listen. If they don’t, that’s between you and them; please don’t blame us.
Just3Dprint does not have a leg to stand on with this argument. They are trying to apply a legal concept for old stock films to digital files that are less than 10-years-old. Public Domain simply does not apply while the original designers are still alive and have their Thingiverse accounts.
Is it a File of Something Else?
Just3Dprint has highlighted an identity crises in 3Dprinting. How do we define the digital file for a physical object?
Designers create a digital file with the intent to produce a physical object. Under this model, .stl files have the same properties as a blueprint or any other CAD file.
The digital file is inseparable from the physical object it produces.
I would contend that digital files have the same copyright and protection as a digital media like music or video. The author has the rights to control their media like any other artist or engineer.
This includes protection from unlicensed production of the physical objects.
What Can be Done?
The 3D printing community has done a lot to express outrage over the actions of Just3Dprint. For this outrage to come to something meaningful, the following can be done to protect the rights of digital designers.
So far ebay and Just3DPrints have pulled down individual listings from just3Dprints store upon the request of the original designer. If your file is being sold by Just3DPrint, you can first send them a message in ebay to have the listing pulled.
If that fails, you can report it for copyright violation using the report function.
Ebay has the Verified Rights Owner (VeRO) Program to help protect IP. Multiple reports to the VeRO Program will result in restrictions or termination of Just3Dprints current ebay store.
Just3Dprint is betting that lone 3D printers will not sue them. However, there is nothing saying that the 2,134 designers they have pirated can’t get together for a class action lawsuit. I’m sure there is a law firm that wants to get into the 3D printing community and make a name for themselves on a contingent basis.
The public can also boycott Just3Dprinting, and instead support their local 3D printers through sites like 3DHubs.
In the future, some organization can be founded to provide legal advising and lobbying for 3D printing rights.
This is the most visible case of 3D pirating, but it is not isolated. If you search ebay, etsy, or any other e-commerce site, you will find hundreds of people selling items in violation of the original Creative Commons License.
Eternal vigilance will be the only thing that protects designers from pirates like just3Dprinting. When the community finds out about companies like them ripping off designers, we can act together to shame and boycott their deceptive business practices.
UPDATE 3/9/16: Ebay has been flooded with take-down request through their VeRo program, and Just3Dprint’s ebay store is empty now. Major file sharing sites like Thingiverse and MyMiniFactory have responded in force against Just3DPrint. MyMiniFactory now offers a labeling service, which puts your copyright and short URL as a watermark into your print.
However, Just3DPrint has continued to act like juveniles. In addition to flaming comment boards, they have threatened the blog site All3DP with a defamation lawsuit for breaking the story. I honestly hope Just3DPrint is taking a page from Donald Trumps play book and blowing hot air at All3DP. If not, it is doubtful that Just3Dprint has a leg to stand on.