Source: Michael Weinberg
This article arises from Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, the New America Foundation, and Slate. On Feb. 29, Future Tense will host an event on the Make movement and do-it-yourself innovation in Washington, D.C. For more information and to sign up for the event, please visit the NAF website.)
It is something of a fluke that copyright law has become so intertwined with our online lives. For most people, the first things that were easy to create and distribute online—articles, pictures, music, movies—also happened to be material protected by copyright. This trained us to assume that we need permission to do just about anything in the digital space—and, increasingly, in the real world.
Fortunately, a technology on the verge of going mainstream will soon give us a chance to re-examine the role that copyright plays in our lives. By connecting the physical and the digital, 3-D printers remind us that copyright is not a general-purpose legal right that allows people to demand control over whatever they want. Instead, copyright has a narrow scope. And most of the things that make up our world simply do not fall into it.
3-D printing takes digital design files and transforms them into real objects. The methods and materials vary, but all 3-D printers essentially work by building up an object one tiny layer at a time. Industrial 3-D printers have been around for a while and are used to build custom jaw replacements, airplane components, and product prototypes. Personal 3-D printers are just starting to come to the market and can create jewelry, bike hardware, and, well, most of the parts to build another personal 3-D printer.