Copyright Exception May Overrule Ability To Jailbreak 3D Printers

At the end of October, the US Patent and Trademark Office renewed a rule allowing anyone to ‘jailbreak’ a 3D printer to use unapproved filament. For those of you following along from countries that haven’t sent a man to the moon, a printer that requires proprietary filament is DRM, and exceptions to the legal enforceability DRM exist, provided these exceptions do not violate US copyright law. This rule allowing for the jailbreaking of 3D printers contains an exception so broad it may overturn the rule.

A few months ago, the US Copyright Office renewed a rule stating that using unapproved filament in a 3D printer does not violate US Copyright law. The language of this rule includes the wording:

‘The exemption shall not extend to any computer program on a 3D printer that produces goods or materials for use in commerce the physical production of which is subject to legal or regulatory oversight…” 

This exception is extraordinarily broad; any 3D printers can produce aircraft parts (subject to FAA approval) and medical devices (subject to FDA approval). In effect, if a 3D printer has the ability to produce objects subject to regulatory oversight, the exception allowing the use of filament not approved by the manufacturer does not apply. Additionally, it should be noted that any object produced on a 3D printer that is subject to regulatory oversight is already regulated — there’s no reason to drag the Copyright Office into the world of 3D printed ventilation masks or turbine blades.

[Michael Weinberg], ‘legal guy’ for Shapeways and President of the Open Source Hardware Association has filed a petition with the US Copyright Office, asking the Office to eliminate this exception to the existing rule surrounding DRM and 3D printers. You are encouraged to submit a comment in support of this petition by March 14th.

49 thoughts on “Copyright Exception May Overrule Ability To Jailbreak 3D Printers

    1. Okay, but what if you own one? Maybe you were ok with using their filament and now you’re not? Maybe the next project requires a better filament? Maybe the next project requires a cheaper, higher volume?

      It’s worth fighting these rules (or exceptions to the exceptions to the rules) or else they will keep profiting from their unfairness.

      But, I build my own open source printers.

    2. Seriously, this ^. My cheapo monoprice MIII works great and will let me put any filament through it so long as the hot end can get hot enough to extrude it. If the company making the printer also sells their own “special” filament, don’t by that printer. Or at the very least, Google whether or not it needs DRM’ed filament. Eventually filament DRM will fade out, if everyone looking to buy a 3d printer avoids DRM’ed printers in the future.

  1. I don’t really see how “using unapproved filament in a 3D printer does not violate US Copyright law.” is even a logical statement if it were the the other way around.

    I feel that it is a bit like saying, “Replacing the handle on a hammer does not violate US Copyright law.” It would be strange if one wasn’t allowed to do such, and would be even more strange if it were for Copyright reasons. Especially if it really matter if the manufacturer of that hammer sells a replacement hammer handle or not. This statement I do need to apologize for since it isn’t the most clear cut example.

    DRM Filament seems like an oddball thing to begin with, I can fully accept that a printer manufacturer can say, “We can’t uphold our product warranty if you use unapproved filament.” But I can’t see how that has anything to do with Copyright.

    1. Then you have not dug deeply enough into the bizarre piece of legislation that is the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. The short version is that, in an attempt to keep people from pirating music that was protected with DRM schemes, they’ve effectively extended copyright to cover _anything_ protected with DRM — from ink cartridges to tractors to 3D printer filament.

      That’s why there are “exceptions” granted to this bizarro rule. Which is alo why getting large loopholes punched in this exception is a bad deal.

        1. I hope that isn’t a negative thing.

          But in general, I would think of it being rather poor costumer support if one has DRM on the filament on the printer and not allow the user to use any other filament. But at the same time, I fully understand if the manufacturer doesn’t want people to just stick in whatever filament they find, as that could lead to the machine “not working” and a warranty claim being made, ending up costing resources (time, money, parts, etc) from the manufacturer.

          So from a warranty standpoint, DRM on Filament makes sense.
          But DRM on filament falling under copyright law doesn’t really seem logical. Unless one starts copying someone’s proprietary (maybe even patented) blends of filament, though yet again this is a different discussion.

          And well, it isn’t hard to grasp the fact that laws can technically say whatever they want, regardless of how illogical they might end up being. And yes, a poorly written law that is partly illogical is something I am going to question.

          But at the same time, I don’t live in the United States of America, so this decision most likely will not directly effect my ability to legally use a 3D printer with whatever filament I see fit. Though, first I should probably get a 3D printer to start with….

      1. Cartridge, bar code on the sting, among other things like each individual spool having its own bar code that the printer asks the manufacturers server of how much is left on that one spool, and when it is “empty” you need to buy a new. As after all, the printer knows how much it is using and sends that data back to the manufacture’s server.

        But there are probably many other methods too.

  2. So, just buiy or build 3d printers that do not have restriction to filament use. People that would buy the commercial printers would not mind using only approved filament, and the majority of other tinkerers will either build their own printers or know which brands to buy.,

  3. Frankly, I don’t see how “…on a 3D printer that produces goods or materials for use in commerce…” would be an issue for a printer that is *capable* of producing those goods or services unless it actually produces those goods or materials. Not only does it not say anything about what the printer is capable of doing, clearly specifying that it only applies when it is used for that production, that would be an extreme overreach. That would be like saying all printing presses must be banned because they are capable of producing counterfeit money or you can’t use your oven to cook dinner because your oven is capable of being used to produce commercial goods.

    Granted, IANAL, but to me the wording is very clear and wouldn’t cause anyone any grief at all unless they were producing commercial goods or materials using unapproved filament.

    1. IANAL either, but I further read the wording to only apply to the production of items that are regulated. Suppose a printer is designed exclusively to produce an aircraft part. No unreasonable for the printer manufacturer to want some restriction on the modification of the printer when it is making aircraft part. But if someone buys the machine second hand, hacks it, and makes fidget spinners, who really cares? An interpretation statement, with examples, would not be an unreasonable thing to request.

      But I do agree with the approach of the petition. Always better to initially ask for “can we just get rid of this?”, and negotiate down to an acceptable solution.

  4. You are missing the point, it is not the ability that is discussed. it is if it is being uesd to produce commercial parts. the interesting part in the legislation is. ….that produces goods …., put the stress on produces and you will get it.

    1. Well, first, this is legal language, not common sense. If it can produce these, then it is a printer that produces these.

      Secondly, you can see in the case of shapeways, that it is cumbersome, at least, to restrict the role based on what is being printed. They get an STL, they print it, they ship it. They don’t want (and shouldn’t have) to check if the user is going to use it on a plane.

      1. The key is “that produces goods”. It does not say can produce goods or has thee ability to produces goods. Its basically saying that you can break the DRM as long as you aren’t selling the thing to a regulated industry

  5. this sounds more like it was intended to prevent changing software on validated systems such as those regulated by the FDA or the FAA. also, if I buy one of these devices and do not produce regulated parts (replacement knees, airplane parts) then the exemption still applies.

  6. The big standout to me is “for use in commerce”. I read it to mean ~ use the printer filament intended to be used by the manufacturer of the printer if you are selling the goods you produce with the printer.

  7. I would agree that everyone is making an incorrect analysis on the exemption. IANAL but i read it to be that if a specific printer is used to make products that are regulated then those products should be made with a manufacturer approved filament.

    This seems to relate more so to making it easy on regulators (like the FDA) to regulate products made on 3d printers by making it one stop and one analysis, the manufacturer of the printer. If you are not making regulated products then it doesn’t matter which filament is used. It seems like another case of make work by lawyers.

    an analogy would be like pressure vessels, If a pressure vessel is run at a certain size/pressure/temp then it needs an ASME stamp. That stamp means that the materials that have gone into the construction have all met a certain requirement and the paperwork is filed with the design as well as the method of producing it has also been approved/tested. If you are below that threshold then no one cares how its made or where you get your material from.

  8. Okay, so if printers being used to produce aircraft parts are subjected to regulation anyway, how does an exception on unapproved filament fly in the face of that? Use the printer as its maker intended when producing parts in fields subject to regulation. It’s common sense. Why endanger your company’s reputation and the lives of others by taking such an unnecessary risk?
    Will people violate this rule anyway and use unapproved filament to make aircraft parts at the probable peril of passengers? Pure, I mean… Sure, but if we’re going to apply that slippery slope slider of a logical argument, then the whole issue is redundant anyway.

    1. I question weather this is even a issue perhaps it is just me but I figure that a aircraft maker that is using a 3d printer is going to have a very good relationship with their 3d printer supplier, especially when paying in the 100s of thousands. If the print company does not work with the part manufacturer they will not have business for long.

  9. Is this trolling again? Medical products and other controlled products (including parts for airplanes) have to use material the manufacturer allow (=have characterized to be within specifications) to be used while producing an end-product withing the area of control… Yeah. Does anyone here _not_ find that obvious?

  10. I don’t see the problem here. For abuse of this rule, a company that makes DRM 3D printers must:
    1. Find someone who jailbroke his printer.
    2. Sue that person.
    Which costs money. Lots and lots of money. And is probably impossible, or very hard.
    Let’s assume that a 3D printer manufacturer, lets call them Dikhedz Inc. are selling a DRMed 3D printer FukYu 8000, and everyone just jailbreaks it by reflashing build-in microcontroller with open source firmware. How could lawyers working for Dikhedz Inc. locate anyone who reprogrammed the FukYu 8000? And then how they can prove that the owner 3D printed anything using other brand of filament than Dikhedz Inc WetNoodle? And how much it would cost? Add to that the cost of backlash of community, loss of revenue due to people switching to other brands of 3D printers, etc. Also this stupid law only applies to USA, and world doesn’t end beyond the borders of USA, and backlash would be international…

    When EA DRMed their game, Spore, it became the most pirated game of its time, and it wasn’t because it was good. It was the backlash from gamers…

  11. i ai am not an expert but it looks like the rule may have opened a loophole as if they dont want you to use unapproved filament they do like ink cartridges do and use software so each time you use the 3d printer the device writes the remaining filament back to the chip on the reel.

    when the reel is empty it stops and those who make replacement chips or resettable chips can be sued because the hacking of software is still illegal.

    though it would be easy for a hacker to hack the software illegally and put it on a pirate site or even on a tor site making it difficult to take down.

    note: the only reason that the creator of the silk road was taken down is he ordered the murder of someone and made a mistake by checking his email or tor in a public place.

    since hacking a 3d printer is not a murder thing or a child porn thing i doubt that law enforcement will dedicate so many resources over a copyright thing

  12. Everytime you produce outside tools’ specifications, you lower the grade of your “MADE IN” brand. This concern is wrongly discarted in a individualistic population. A private brand will always benefit from the country’s general quality of production. You want chinese quality and reputation, adopt their standards… otherwise stick to US standards and regulations.

    1. So whatever brand of printer you bought automatically has the best filament in the world? What if you want to use different filament because you can get more suitable material properties or better consistency?

      Not every manufacturing choice is based on cost, and filament of a different brand would not have to be outside of the printer’s (meaningful) specifications.

  13. How does “Lexmark vs Static Control Components” not apply here?
    IANAL but my understanding of the case is that the courts ruled that copying the DRM in a printer cartridge for the purposes of making compatible cartridges is legal under the DMCA. Assuming that is in fact true, how does that same ruling not apply to 3D printers?

  14. Pretty sure this is about guns, or maybe things like suppressors, the making of which is regulated.

    They’re not talking about things where only the commerce itself is regulated, as in medical devices. You can make yourself an insulin pump and it isn’t regulated if you want to just use it yourself. Or not use it. You just can’t sell it. But if I’m not mistaken, if you make a suppressor or a full-auto sear you have to register it with the government whether or not you sell it.

  15. INOLO, but I did study FDA laws in Medical Product Development at UCI… I think that Unless you are a surgeon, I think using a homemade insulin pump would be illegal. The USA has a real interest in your life and health. Interest, as in vested, not as in they are compassionate.
    You’d be practicing medicine without a license.
    Okay for good Samaritan exemption, but not with forethought etc.

  16. For those of you who write from some countries that helped/did fool the world with the moon landing, there is a country in this world that gave a scientist who invented all the math for rockets which is still in use today.
    Also some comoant in that country produces Delta 3D printers working with whatever filament you desire. You can 3dPrint even things as big as an automobile with one of their products and use whatever filament you want without any lawyer assistance.

    This is f?%king stupid – how the f?%# can someone claim some polimer with sidechains to be their property? How about somebody fill a patent for ethane gas to be their own? Why does industry steal community-based ideas to make them their own with lawyers involved?

    It is the same thing as the moon landing – assuming all people are stupid. Do you know why there are no stars on the films from the moon? They simply could not not draw them! Anyone studying the constelations would notice there’s someyhing not normal with the star positions.

    So wake up. Get a Delta 3D printer from Dracula’s Country as fast as you can before someone will have the brilliant idea to fill patents for breathing oxygen.

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