What Does Copyright Law Say About 3D Printing?

Linkilaw Business News

The 3D printing revolution seems to have brought about substantial changes to the way people are now manufacturing things. With 3D printers becoming more affordable and more widely available, it seemed for a while that the innovations were merely taking off. However, a recent government decision put a hamper on this surging and utterly exciting technological advancement.

The latest legal say in copyright law


In July, the UK brought about an extension of copyright rights for designs from 25 years to the life of the designer – plus 70 years! In other words, design products (like clocks, furniture, and the like) are now going to be protected under copyright for a good hundred years on average, and in most cases even longer. The ramifications of such a legislative change are significant. Rick Falkvinge from Pirate Party UK stated that “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.”

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So far, designed goods were protected by design rights plus a short copyright. When something is under copyright, you are no longer able to make your own version of it using your tools and materials. With the current legislation dramatically extending the copyright period,  the 3D printing industry is expected to suffer a great blow. “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 asserted.

Repercussions and implications

The new law faced a mound of criticism as it stood accused of moving designs out of the public domain. Falkvinge said: “Extending the monopoly term retroactively makes no sense at all – somebody is not going to change their minds 25 years ago because of changes to law today. Designs that already exist won’t stop existing because of later legislative efforts. This is arguably stealing from that public domain, as it negates property rights of makers.” In practice, this means that some classical pieces of design (like the Eames or Mondrian chair, for instance) whose 25-year copyright period had expired, will again become protected when the legal changes take effect in January 2017.

There is another point at issue with this current law, and that is that it compounds patent and copyright law, which are two entirely different legal zones. Namely, when something is under copyright, you are no longer free to make copies and put it to your own use, as is in the case of a patent. With useful everyday objects such as furniture, this impediment means a major hindrance. Not only that, but it also can lead to prosecution of anyone who breaks the law.


While the law may slow down the superfluous manufacturing of cheap knock-off products that have been flooding the UK and EU markets, many point to the other side of the coin: Unofficial replicas of some great and truly iconic designs, normally made possible by expired copyrights, are now going to be out of reach for many. They are also going to stay this way for a minimum of 100 years, if the law doesn’t change in the meantime.

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The real consequences are yet to be seen. Who knows, now that replication has been ground to a halt, perhaps it will boost creativity and innovation in manufacturers instead.