“A recent extension of UK copyright for industrially manufactured artistic works represents ‘a direct assault on the 3D printing revolution,’ says Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge. The UK government last month extended copyright for designs from 25 years to the life of the designer plus 70 years. In practice, this is likely to mean a copyright term of over 100 years for furniture and other designed objects.
As Ars reported last year, a consultation was held by the UK government on how long the transitional period for the new rules should be. Originally, the new copyright term was due to come into force at the end of April, but following the consultation the government granted a further three months, which ended on July 28. In addition, there is a six-month ‘depletion period’ for contracts in place prior to the consultation. This will conclude on January 28, 2017.
Writing on the Private Internet Access site, Falkvinge says that the copyright extension will have important consequences for makers in the UK and EU: ‘This change means that people will be prohibited from using 3D printing and other maker technologies to manufacture such objects, and that for a full century.’
Falkvinge points out a crucial difference between the previous UK protection for designs, which was based on what are called ‘design rights’ plus a short copyright term, and the situation now, which involves design rights and a much-longer copyright term. With design rights, ‘you’re absolutely and one hundred percent free to make copies of it for your own use with your own tools and materials,’ Falkvinge writes. ‘When something is under copyright, you are not. Therefore, this move is a direct assault on the 3D printing revolution.’
In an e-mail to Ars, the legal expert Andrew Katz, partner at Moorcrofts LLP, agreed with Falkvinge’s view. ‘It would seem that this analysis is correct. It’s not something I’ve analysed with respect to design rights, but I’ve been waiting for something similar to happen with utility patents (which have a specific exemption for private implementation/use) with a view to attacking 3D printing.’
‘Moving furniture design from a [design right] to copyright law means that people can and will indeed be prosecuted for manufacturing their own furniture using their own tools,’ Falkvinge claims.
That may not have been the UK government’s intention when it extended the copyright on designs last month, but given the tendency for copyright holders to apply the law as broadly as possible, it seems likely that it will be an important consequence.”