3d Printing, The New Frontier Of Piracy?

We’ve all heard the countless arguments about piracy in digital media. However, it appears that 3d printing or other rapid prototyping systems are bringing legal issues to a more physical world. The story goes like this: [Thomas]  bought a 3d printer. He’s a big fan of warhammer figurines. He spends tons of time creating some custom warhammer figures, and uploads them to thingaverse. Games Workshop, the owners of Warhammer, unleashed the lawyers and had the items removed.

There are so many angles to this story, the mind boggles. If I were an artist, and someone else was uploading copies of my work, essentially stopping my revenue, it would suck. Then again, if I were lucky enough to have a fanatical fan base that spread the love for my product with excitement and zeal, I might want to encourage them. Neither of those thoughts however, cover the legal issue at the base here. We don’t have an answer for you. Sorry. You’ll probably be seeing this issue pop up more and more often in the future.

We encourage you to make our logo. Though we haven’t bothered to ask our lawyers.

89 thoughts on “3d Printing, The New Frontier Of Piracy?

  1. “He spends tons of time creating some custom warhammer figures, and uploads them to thingaverse.”

    My understanding says that if it’s more than 30% different from anything they’ve released, and doesn’t carry the name “Warhammer” on it anywhere, they’d have no right whatsoever to make such a demand. Technically, though it would be similar to their product, unless he COPIED parts of the model directly, he’s created something new and owns the copyright to that design.

    Another example would be fanfic. If I write a Star Trek fic, I own the copyright to the story, but Paramount owns the trademark to Star Trek. If I left off all the trademark-infringing names, they’d have no recourse, it’d just be a story ‘like’ Star Trek.

    Games Workshop doesn’t own the idea of little figurines to play games with, just the designs they’ve created and the word “Warhammer” (and others, I’m sure.)

  2. The scenario of Thomas vs. Games Workshop is not one of piracy but rather a company throwing its weight at an individual in order to minimize competition. In this hypothetical scenario, Games Workshop would probably claim trademark infringement, if they felt they could get away with it.

    There is no stealing going on here, unless GW provided the base 3D designs under a strict license.

    1. It’s not much different from the thriving replica car business. And these guys use 3D scanners and molds to replicate the bodies and interiors of a lot of vehicles.

      In fact, some of the cloned parts are better than the originals. This doesn’t make folks like ford, lamborghini and ferrari happy, but I have seen some stunning replicas that even enthusiasts can’t spot from up close.

      1. Ford actually helps Dynacorn make replica Mustang bodies. They’re tougher and stiffer than original bodies, and original parts still bolt right up. Year One will sell you all the newly manufactured parts you need to build a brand new 1st gen Camaro (except the VIN). Personally I don’t think Ferrari or GM really care about all the Fierraris people have made, but I want to see someone take the “turn a Fiero into a Ferrari” trend and turn it around.

        The only lawsuit I can think of off the top of my head was the late Carroll Shelby suing Factory Five Racing for making Cobra replicas. All they had to do was stop using the word “Cobra”, because that’s all he actually had exclusive rights to.

    2. In all truth, this has been a long term goal of mine. I came up with a method to recreate geometry in a simpler fashion, but with £350 3D printers, I’d be happy to spend 2-3k in ABS (probabaly more) fabricating a body in 6x6x6″ parts joining them with filler and sanding them to remove the grain and using the resulting model as a buck to do some glass fibre bodywork. Then it’s just a matter of finishing this space frame chassis design. Ferrari 250TR you will be mine.

    3. Jay Leno already “prints” parts for his obsolete auto projects. Since he apparently has to own absolutely everything with the remotest whiff of cool he also owns a custom jet bike, a turbine car and a tank engine powered custom roadster.

      I am sure it is only a matter of time and available technology before he comes up with the idea to ‘print’ his own complete car.

      Phantom Of The Router

  3. In a similar vein, I came across a cool game the other day (pushfightgame.com) and thought, “I could design and 3D print that easily.” But I won’t.

    Perhaps there’s a future in licencing 3D printable designs for games. Maybe we’ll have to deal with another sort of DRM, though.

  4. Legal systems often don’t perform as intended copyright and patent law are no exception. I’m very interested to see how rulings shake out in the years to come.

    On a related side note, I think one of the reasons people seem so eager for a zombie apocalypse is because in the words of the Joker, “What this town needs is an enema”, to fix such broken legal systems among other things.

    Many of us feel we are powerless to fix the things that are clearly broken.

    When I feel that way I recall http://www.amazon.com/The-Genesis-Machine-James-Hogan/dp/0743435974/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1338484418&sr=8-1 where the scientists spank the world until it behaves. Which isn’t nearly as good as doing something about the various problems around me, but is nearly as satisfying.

  5. You have to go back to the root question: what is being protected? If it’s a patent or a trademark, then it seems pretty straightforward. If it’s copyright, then it’s messier. Can a physical object be copyrighted? I suppose you could copyright the source file, but where do you draw the line for determining if it’s copyrightable? Could you copyright a 1x4x9 rectangular prism?

    If [Thomas] made his own models from scratch, he’s not copying any of Games Workshop’s material. If he didn’t market them as “Warhammer 40k figurines”, but rather as “table top war game figurines”, then he’s clear of trademark claims.

    The grey area is when you make something that, as the article states “is copying artistic patterns or designs on an object”. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Copying a style doesn’t count as copyright infringement, and it seems like this is what happened with [Thomas].

    Games Workshop’s lawyers IMO are a bit overeager in this case. But from a business perspective, it’s safer to be overeager and occasionally lose a case rather than let the world rip off your business.

    1. My understanding (though I’m not a lawyer) has always been you don’t copyright the idea but the expression of the idea. That’s why you copyright a book or piece of music, not patent it.

      Using this as the basis, I would suggest you could copyright physical items (e.g., a painting or a sculpture). But potential problems abound. For example, how much different must an item be from another before it is no longer copyright infringement? What about derivative works or fair use? I sense lawyers salivating.

    2. This is just like I can’t make my own variants of Mickey Mouse or Luke Skywalker and sell them under their name.

      In fact, try putting something random like Elvis Presley Style Breakfast Crunch on the market, and see how far “derivative works” gets you.

      Life sucks. Sorry, but atm this is the situation.

    3. “Can a physical object be copyrighted?”

      Oh yeah. The miniatures are basically small sculptures, which are quite copyrightable. And, as you’ve anticipated, there is some wiggle room for something to be “different but still a copy”. Obviously a cartoon featuring Ricky Rat or a painting of several Swanson’s soup cans could fall close enough to the original work as to be seen as copies. Games Workshop recently sued another miniatures maker for knocking off their particular “giant wolf with rider” miniature. I don’t play Warhammer Fantasy, so I’ve forgotten the exact name of the piece, but since it used a made-up name for the creature from the Warhammer Fantasy universe, it was a bit easier for GW to put on the pressure.

      Even without copyright, you can run afoul of trademark by using costuming similar to that depicted on Warhammer’s characters. McDonald’s found out something simialar the hard way recently: they were sued by Devo when they released an American Idol-themed happy meal figurine, “New Wave Ned”, which featured the tiered orange hat from “Whip It”. Apparently they just didn’t think anyone would have bothered to file that as a performance trademark. Oops. In this case, a mech is mentioned, suggesting he probably drafted up his version of a dreadnaught (think mech meets coffin).

      As for the “trade” part of trademarking, that’s not strictly a requirement. The goal is to prevent market confusion, but distribution, sale, or profit are required to be considered part of the market. Even if you have no intention to sell, your use can water down the brand, bringing it ever closer to a generic trade mark. This is why Dow is demands you not call just any clear plastic food wrap “Saran wrap”, or why Google hates the phrase “google it” and prefers “search for it using the Google ™ search engine.” Use of a trademarked name/style/appearance on anything not by the manufacturer leads to potential market confusion, which means a potential law suit.

      Plus, GW is British. I’m not sure how this colors their particular trademark and copyright laws, but I’d be surprised if they’re somehow less aggressive than their American counterparts. GW has been fairly litigious over it’s history. Which is pretty odd considering the premise of Warhammer 40k is, “what if we took all the bad sci-fi movied from the 80s and put them in one universe?”

      tl;dr — as soon as he put “Warhammer” and “share” together, he was pretty much inviting lawsuit.

      1. “The goal is to prevent market confusion, but distribution, sale, or profit are required to be considered part of the market.”

        There so be a “no” or “n’t” in there somewhere. obviously distribution, sale, and profit are not all the same thing. What constitutes “trade” and and infringement of trademark is not really restricted to what you sell or what you profit by sharing.

  6. I’m sure we all saw this coming anyway. I remember being in High school and my mate said to me, “someday, people will pirate food and other physical items”.

    I regret that there will be legal issues but I welcome to future with open arms.

  7. We have seen this before with music, we know how it ends. An “Association” is formed and their lawyers go to great lengths to prosecute. They could save them selves a lot of trouble and just adapt with the technology curve and distribute their designs to the community for a small fee and an easy profit. Because eventually an “iTunes” for the community will emerge anyhow! or maybe I assume too much.
    Good article…

  8. This makes me want to print the model!! I generally don’t give two $#!^s about games, but whiny companies attacking cool creative individuals are something to be mocked and scorned.

    1. I agree. Sick and tired of these greedy bastards trying to make a quick buck on something they don’t own. Their stupid “copyrights” and “licenses”…Do people OWN things anymore?

      Like in Star Trek… we should do to our lawyers what they did to theirs in the 21st century :P

      1. “Like in Star Trek… we should do to our lawyers what they did to theirs in the 21st century :P”

        Give them ranks, put them in charge of a global militarized government, and somehow pretend that it’s all somehow being progressive?

  9. He wasn’t selling these toys (right?). It appears it was purely for his own use. Everyone is still entitled to express their creativity/ingenuity, right? hmmm… maybe I’m alone on this. Better buy a makerbot before they’re outlawed, I reckon.

  10. It’s not piracy or stealing… it’s copying and copying is *not* theft.

    The hacking community needs to stop using prose which the legal community invented to make us sound evil for doing something which actually positive for mankind but bad for their wallets and outdated business models.

    When we start wearing eye-patches, attacking law firms in boats and capturing their treasure we’ll be pirates.

    1. Nicely said. But we have gone down that road before:

      According to them making copies of videos/ music (why is it that patents for something useful don’t enjoy 100+ years of rights?), software, now 3d figures is theft (also equated with piracy)

      This is why I HATE every time I supposedly BUY something and I am slapped with some “license” BS when I turn it on. As others said, these bums have stolen many of our rights to favor themselves and they used their money to buy it from our politicians. There are no more checks and balances. The system is skewed to their side.

      1. @tuseroni: Thanks, I read that. The nerve of those people. What I do with my time and how I watch TV is none of their business.

        What’s next? You are not supposed to eat the cream out of an Oreo cookie first. You are supposed to eat it without splitting it? Let’s outlaw that too.

      2. >What’s next? You are not supposed to eat the cream >out of an Oreo cookie first. You are supposed to >eat it without splitting it? Let’s outlaw that too.

        They’ll outlaw splitting non Oreo cookies and eating the centers.

  11. in japan they have a whole culture around copyright infringement known as doujinshi, twice a year thousands of people gather to buy and sell works made on copyrighted material as well as original works. this has done nothing to hurt the anime or manga industry in fact it has often served as a jumping off point for anime fans to join the anime industry and make their own works or contribute to other works. rather than hurting the industry, doujinshi has proven to make the industry STRONGER.

    i think we need to just get rid of copyright or greatly limit it (copyrights originally lasted 14-28 year, they now last 70 years after the death of the creator…this can be over 100 years.)
    sadly its not that simple, copyright is international law and the courts have decided international law trumps even the constitution. so to change copyright law requires every nation (or is it just a majority of nations?) to agree to change the copyright law…so yo can’t just change it in your state (which is easier to change as there are fewer people to appeal to, county is easier still and city the easiest)

    1. “sadly its not that simple, copyright is international law and the courts have decided international law trumps even the constitution”

      Welcome to the New World Order. Globalism is the enemy.

      We should kick the UN out of here and get rid of every law that goes against national law (I’m in the US, but same applies to every other country) and then tighten the screws on the politicians and lobyists.

      International law should never be above national law. Otherwise this looks like the making of an empire.

      1. unfortunately reality likes to avoid simplification.
        the issue of globalization is the issue the US had in its beginning. as it is now federal law and the federal constitution trump even the state constitutions. the fed has all the power and the matter of strong central government vs decentralized government has been a long long long fight.the rights of the state vs the power of the fed. and it comes also to a question of stability vs freedom. the freedom of a state to try new things interferes with the stability of the fed to have uniform laws across the country. and what one state does affects other states around them because of the free flowing of people from one state to another. so the right of that state may conflict with the right of surrounding states.
        globalization is just another level above this based on the same basic principals (the actions of one country affect other countries)
        of course one issue i have is there is no house of representatives for the UN and to my knowledge we do not vote for our diplomats in the UN AFAIK they are elected by the government and thus are loyal not directly to us but to those who elected them, the current administration.

        its a sticky situation with no clear simple solutions and being that its so big its very difficult or impossible for one person or even a nice grassroots movement to affect change. copyright is something which affects every state in the union and different countries on earth so the freedom to experiment with different copyright laws is not without effects on others.

        kinda why i look forward to colonizing mars. as earth closes into one world government we need some other place where people can still operate in a vacuum and show that their way is better.

      2. @tuseroni:
        And that is why I said that globalism and the NWO are the enemy. There are no elected representatives, therefore it does not represent the people. That may go down well with people used to live under monarchies, but not with people living in a democracy.

        And to place any non-american (put your country here) law above the constitution should be considered treason.

      3. @JB “globalism” is simply an idea NWO isnt an actual organization. globalism isnt bad its a question of how its done. the UN for instance is in part modeled on the american federal system (federal being a distribution of power something like a fractal coming from a central root) the root is simply shifted from the US government being the root to simply being another branch and the UN being the root.

        ***BEGIN long and likely faulty explanation of federal government as it pertains to globalization***

        so you have the UN as the root, then the us, china, the EU, etc as branches on the UN, on the US branch you have the fed as the root with the 50 states as branches, each branch is structured like the root (congress made of a house and a senate and a supreme court with leader called a governor in the branches and president in the root. ) under each branch you have counties and cities i dont think the county has a mayor but the city does, cities also have councils kinda like the congress of the state but much simpler. courts are arranged by specificity so the city will have a court, the county, the state, and the country with appeals going up from the specific to the general.

        ***end long and likely faulty explanation of federal government as it pertains to globalization***

        when you picture it as a tree structure you see globalization represents simply the appending of the US root to the UN root.like mounting a file system in *nix.
        the issue comes in who elects the representatives, if they are not elected by the people then it cannot be called a democracy. if they want to do globalization right (or i should say if we want to be part of this) then they need to model the UN more like the federal government and the people need to elect our representatives. if the US is subject to international law then there must be a supreme court for international law that can appeal above the US supreme court, the legislative branch must be elected by the people if the people are to be subject to that legislation that is one of the founding principal of our country.and there must be a constitution that determines what rights the people have, what rights the country has, how due process must be handled, etc and it must be hard to change, international law must abide by this global constitution and give a basis on which to make appeals.

        globalization isnt the enemy, its faulty globalization. its monarchy usurping democracy that’s the enemy.

      4. Oh come on. The UN has nothing on the US – it’s the opposite way around because the permanent members have absolute veto rights on all decisions, and all decisions need a complete consensus, so if any one of the countries isn’t in on it, it won’t fly.

        If anything, the UN is internationally viewed as being under US’s heel because every time it tries to do anything that the US doesn’t like, you throw a tantrum and threaten to veto everything.

      5. @Dax yeah that’s how it IS, im talking how it SHOULD be, if we are gonna do globalization right the US needs to be under the UN and no one should be able to say “we are only gonna follow your rules when it suits us”

  12. Oh no! I downloaded and printed that before it was removed. Now I swallowed it by mistake! I guess I will have to sue Games Workshop because it seems it is actually their product and thus they are libel.

      1. Well, although Trolls like to complain about spelling, in a legal case proving libel would be the end result. They would fight the thought that they were “liable” so the end result would be to prove them “libel” (i.e. defamation) Yes, it might not sound obvious but that is were it would go.

  13. digital copy piracy is funny. People who don’t know anything about economics and commerce link it to freedom and justify it with obviously-flawed philosophy, vendors use worse DRM and copyright-law until they tank or drop entire markets..

    I know.. I Know.. I’m wrong.. it’s all about your freedumbs mmaaaaannn!

    people who don’t contribute to society need operating systems and video games, and music too!

    SOLUTION: vendors embrace free content with licenses that allow them to use contributions while leaving it in a protected license state that protects the creators from discredit, and the vendor from being sued for common business practices like making money off their own original designs..

    1. its not about economics or commerce, its about freedom and ethics, economics and commerce are things that should be built on top of those principals, not the other way around.
      it comes down to the question of should you be allowed to make copies of someone else’s work? should you be allowed to distribute copies of their works for free? should you be allowed to distribute copies of their works for a profit?
      whether those things are fundamentally wrong underlies the issue, if they are not but they are economically bad then it is the economy which must change not the ethics.

      we can build hypothetical scenarios of how it would cause some dystopian future where everything is copied and no one dare make anything original or equally flawed hypothetical scenarios where everything is free and people make things because they want to and everyone is happy. but they wont get us anywhere, we have to answer the fundamental issue of IS IT WRONG. if not everything else follows. and the economy will chug along, it might change good, bad, who knows but it will be a bit more moral.

    2. ” People who don’t know anything about economics and commerce link it to freedom…”

      People who don’t know anything about freedom link it to economics and commerce… Because the economy and commerce are the foundations of society and sit above everything else, right?

  14. A copy is bad, but custom work should be fine… even if its similar. These are my thoughts..

    If i have a CAR…

    If you copy the car … BAD …
    Unless i get a share of each car sold. (LICENSE)
    Unless its not for profit (PERSONAL)

    if you design your own car based on mine… OK!
    if you copy the car and alter it… BAD

    Why cant it be as simple as that?

  15. 3D printing is so last year.
    What I want to see someone do is molecular synthesis on a desktop, using a combination of magnetic, UV lasers and clever chemistry so you can make your own expensive patented pharmaceuticals (ie Aricept etc) without the expense.
    Talk about a disruptive technology, Big Pharma will go the way of the dodo if this gets out.

    1. I looked at this for some time. The proper product and his model are as similar as the product and post ww1 variants it is based on. Notice his has a shield at the base of a vulcan gun while the product has neither. His does not have the ap grenade launchers on the sides, the light looking bit on top, or the forward facing machine gun. His looks rather generic actually. Reminds me of vehicles from Warzone 2100.

      It isn’t close enough for me to distinguish exactly where he was going for save for the fact that there is only one game in town for fantasy setting tank miniatures.

      Derivative work this isn’t. It is something new, nice but generic.

  16. IF that picture in the article is [Thomas]’s creation, then he’s fairly well stuffed as that’s certainly very similar to a stalwart GW product: The Leman Russ tank.

    Arguably, you could say both are inspired by a British “Tank Mark I” (ala, 1915), but it would still be shakey.

    As an aside, GW have always been quick to use their lawyers, they’ve got a fierce legal division that’s making sure they keep hold of copyright globally. I would slag off GW for it, but certainly International and American laws say you have to actively pursue copyright and trademark infringment to continue to own the rights to them.

  17. I’ve a solution: make the base 20% thinner, make the tracks square at the back, and add a rear turret. Then he can put it back up on Thingiverse.
    The only problem I see with it is his model is very similar to theirs, and I don’t think it is different enough to not be considered a copy.

  18. After reading the post on Wired, I can’t see how it is copyright infringement. All he had to do is just take down the word “Warhammer” and everything would have been groovy.

    If you modify your vehicle to put a feature say deluxe sound, when you got the model of the vehicle without the upgrade, is that not similar. So this could be viewed as his modification to the game.

    If jail-breaking an iphone is considered legal then how is this not.

  19. Piratebay does have a physibles section, here is the model you cna download


    Well done,I don;t get why it’s such a bad thing, oh well.

  20. I been expecting this for a while, see how many coke bottles you can print before they come after you for their pattented shape.

    your designs will now have to be uploaded to the top secret illegal trading sites.

  21. Solution: Sneakernet.

    We are all going to end up doing what the Cubans do now, trading DVDs and flash drives with stuff on them to not get busted by the DRM gestapo. Hard for them to frig with you when your model or whatever isn’t on the web, right?

    Or there will be a reshuffling of law and all this DRM bs will become redundant. Personally I think the sneakernet thing is a lot more likely.

  22. Of course copyright will be important for artists who use the same 3d printers, or similar techniques, to multiply their creations. But, if the original is cast aluminum (for example) and “copies” are plastic, then it’s basically nitpicking.

  23. I’m not a lawyer, but I am a Warhammer 40k player.

    My first knee-jerk reaction was that his tank isn’t just “like” a Imperial Guard tank. On a table, it would be almost indestinguishable unless someone was looking REALLY close. Almost a direct copy. Forgive me for comparing apples to oranges on this one, but in my mind it’s like doing a cover of a song and trying to make it sound as much like the original as possible, then giving it away.

    But then, is this really that different than scratch-builds and kit-bashes? Instead of building with plasticard and sprue chunks, he’s building with some exact tools and plastic filament. Fans do this all the time, and Games Workshop used to even encourage it for models they weren’t selling.

    Personally, I think he should drop the “Warhammer” in the titles of the files, make them just different enough he can say “inspired by” and “compatible with”, and then contact one of the custom 3rd party bitz sellers out there and see if he can get a job with them.

  24. From previous GW lawsuits, I’d guess this is more to do with their IP. It’s happened with a few companies that made compatible parts for their models and sold them as such. From what I’ve gathered, it’s more to do with German IP law than UK. If they do not actively protect it to the max, they lose it, apparently.

  25. Soooooo a 3d Printer does what it is designed to do and now everyone has their hands in their pockets looking at the ground lol. I think this is where Cory Doctorow and the rest of the idiots at BoingBoing make a cutesy logo and get the EFF to update its page lol. It’s almost like both sides need each other for click revenue ;)

    I would suggest listening to “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles for an explanation of what is still going on.

    I mean, this 3d printer is commonly hailed on HaD for being able to reproduce expensive, proprietary replacement parts. How is that any different? Then again, how is it different than taking it to a “shade tree” and getting him to lathe you a new Johnson refibrulator or some such back in the day. It seems like if a company is using planned obsolescence then there should be some abandonia clause for EOL production. This is why I am not a lawyer lol, and litigious folks tick me off.

    /loved that kinect 3d room replication :)

    1. I don’t think you made actual warhammer figures tho. Thats the point with this kid also he didnt actually make warhammer he made a design that was very much like warhammer 40k designs…

  26. Well, I once considered getting into the game. I realized how expensive and time-consuming that would be and decided against it. Then I decided I was going to buy some figurines and do custom reworks and awesome paint jobs.

    Then this happened.

    Obviously they don’t want people being fans of their games and devoting time and effort into turning their playing pieces into works of art. Oh well. I guess I really don’t need to spend that time and money on Games Workshop miniatures. I guess I don’t need to buy any more GW novels.

    Thanks, Games Workshop, for helping keep me from figuring out how to justify the cost of your toys to myself. Now I can save a whole lot of money and just ignore you. Way to promote creative expression and hardcore fandom. I’m surprised you don’t sue everyone who makes (or sells parts to make) Space Marine costumes.

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