Who’s 3D model is it?

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Why we need creative commons attribution

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.

Sad face pic
Sad Face file and picture from Louise Driggers. This picture is posted under Fair Use, and creative commons attribution to the original author, which Just3DPrint has failed to do.

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 attributionLicense 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.

Case Study

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

jsut3d4 - creative commons attribution
The Orange Screamer whistle that was pirated from Thingiverse. The picture used in the listing does not have attribution or credit. Posted under Fair Use.

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).

origional file - creative commons attribution
The original Orange screamer, photo and file by AndyGadget

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

R2-D2 Cookie Cutter pirated by just3dprint. Posted under Fair Use - creative commons attribution
R2-D2 Cookie Cutter pirated by just3dprint. Posted under Fair Use

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

Coffe Stencil creative commons attribution
Coffee Stencil that was pirated by just3Dprint. Posted under Fair Use.

This was designed by faberdasher. Again, the original picture was copied, and no attribution was given.

Origioanl Coffee stencil - creative commons attribution
The original coffee stencil, posted under Fair Use

This is licensed under the creative commons 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.

Public Domain

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.

Individual 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.

copyright violation - creative commons attribution
How to file a copyright violation in ebay

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.

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  1. Iamdbain says

    I would like to say if you post a design intending to allow people to copy it then you must be able to cope with the fact that all people are not fair minded like you. And unless you hire an attorney, what is going to stop these pirates? The whole open source community operates on a reasonable fair minded responsible person model. Unfortunately, not everyone fits this model. And this ripping off behavior can be profitable and not as illegal as robbing a bank. So crooks will flock to easy money. That is just my take on this matter. Once you put it a design out, it is completely out of your control.

  2. Richard Bynum says

    As I was reading this my anger was pumping up more and more. I’m so glad that eBay shut him down! I don’t understand much about copywrites other than we should not copy music for free off the internet. But I got the idea that this was really wrong. Shouldn’t writing “stl” files be exactly like writing a book and have the same protections? The person that wrote the “stl” file came up with it in their mind just like an author of a book would come up with the words in the order they were written. Well, anyway, I’m sure this could go on forever so I’m just gonna say I’m happy this guy got shut down! Maybe the law will catch up with this new tech soon and all will be clear.

    1. Stan Baldwin says

      Just 3D print has been in the news recently when they tried to sue some of the blog sites that got the whole thing started, not realizing that they are protected by the 1st amendment. They are like a bad case of the clap, they just keep coming back, and they are the trolls of the 3D printing world.
      Ideally copyright protects the digital rights of the original author / designer, including .stl files. The issue is that the 3D printing world was built open source to avoid the exclusive restrictions and greed of tech companies. On one had you have a technology and culture that encourages open sharing (riprap) and tech companies and engineers that want to protect their IP and cover their R&D cost. The technology is going to change our legal definitions of physical copyright and physical rights. It is one thing to openly share a file publicly on thingiverse. There you understand that anyone will download and 3D print it, and can rip it off and sell the print. Its another when a physical object you design for internal use leaves your control and is used by someone else without your permission.

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