Copyright

3D Printing and repairing products

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Some companies have already expressed concern that 3D printing will allow consumers to repair so much of the product with at-home printed pieces, that the consumer is actually replacing the whole product for free. Unfortunately, the difference between making major repairs and reproducing the product is not clear-cut.

Patent: It is easy to imagine buying a product, scanning all its individual unpatented parts, and then using a 3D printer to print out any parts needed to repair a product at home. Not only would this be convenient for the consumer, but it would also prolong the life of the product.  Keep in mind though, that what is and what isn’t patented isn’t intuitive. Some parts that you might assume are not subject to patent protection may actually be patented.

However, many useful objects do have patent protection. Under patent law, the creator has the exclusive right to reproduce a product. However, the consumer is generally allowed to make repairs to their product but they are not allowed to recreate the patented object. The questions remains, “at what point does a single major repair or cumulative repairs equate to reproducing the product?” Unfortunately, the answer for the moment is unclear.

Copyright: If the product were copyrighted, reproducing it would be a copyright violation. However, making repairs to a copy you obtained lawfully is not. Let’s say a person purchased an art piece made of various colored sugar cubes that combined to create an image of a man’s face. Individually, the sugar cubes are not copyrighted. If a dog eats some, but not all of the sugar cubes, how many could be replaced before the owner has effectively reproduced the artist’s work without permission? The answer is unfortunately unclear.

Trademark: So long as consumers are never exposed to a reproduction of a trademark, a trademark can be copied. For example, if a person broke the lid on a standard thermos that has a Starbucks logo on it. They could replace the lid and the whole logo, so long as the lid is kept strictly for personal use.

If you have any other questions regarding 3D printing and the law please don’t hesitate to contact New Media Rights via our contact form.

Legal issues that arise from creating a 3D file using only a computer program

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Do rights exist in a CAD or STL file made using a computer program?

Copyright: Maybe. Copyright protects a work if it is an original creation that is fixed in some tangible form. Computer files are considered tangible under copyright law, so that’s one requirement checked off. But what counts as an original creation?

  • Creating a file of a nail, and only the nail would not create a copyrightable work because nails are useful, unoriginal, and not copyrightable.
  • Designing an object in a CAD file that is entirely original (remember, it doesn’t necessarily have to be unique just original to you) would create a copyrightable work.
  • Designing a file that contains an original object design, plus some separate unoriginal design, then only the parts of the file with the original design would be subject to copyright. However unlike a scanned file, a CAD file would likely be a derivative work, that is something based on a creative work that puts that creative work into a new format (for example a movie based on video game). The rest of the file would not be subject to copyright. For example, if someone designed a CAD file containing an artistic bust of themselves, plus a run-of-the-mill box for it to sit upon. They own the file to the extent it relates to the bust, but they do not own the part of the file that relates to the box design.

Patent: Simply creating a file of a patented object would not be an infringement of the underlying patent. However, sharing that file or using it print out the patented object would.  Keep in mind; this does not exclude the creator from having a copyright in the file.

Trademark: The only way a creator of a 3D-printable file will have rights in the file under trademark law is if the creator already has a trademark that happens to be included in the file. This does not exclude the creator from having a patent or copyright in the file.

For more information on the legalities of using trademarks in 3D printed works legally you can check out our “3D Printing trademark basics."

If you are including a trademark you don’t own and don’t have permission to use, and are going to share it with the public, you probably want to check with an attorney about whether or not your use of the trademark is permitted.  This is the type of issue New Media Rights may be able to assist with, so please use our contact form if you’d like to request assistance.

So if a CAD or STL file is protected by copyright law… what exactly does that mean?

Copyright law protects the creator’s right to copy, modify, distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, and create derivatives of the original work. Copyright infringement occurs when a person copies, modifies, distributes, publicly displays, publicly performs, or create derivatives of the original work without permission. Below we explain what each of these rights is and what infringement of those rights might look like in the 3D printing space. That said, there are some ways to legally reuse another’s copyrighted work , including using works in fair use, which you can read more about on our 3D printing copyright basics page.

Also as a general note, these descriptions only address files that are copyrightable. Files of useful objects, as explained above, are for the most part not subject to copyright so they will not be discussed in this section.


Copying: Making a copy of a 3D-printable file you don’t have the copyright to violates the creator’s copyright. However, copying useful elements of those same files would not violate copyright law.

Let’s use the standard bed frame with an artistic headboard example again. A person could copy the entire CAD file if given permission to do so by the copyright owner (i.e. the person who created the headboard). This would not violate copyright law. Please note that because of the way computers work, “cutting and pasting” is actually considered making a copy.

Distributing: Distribution of a copyrighted file occurs when it transmitting it to a third party (i.e. emailing a file to someone or sharing it via a thumb drive.) This type of digital distribution by its very nature also results in making a copy of the file.’ Thus sharing a copyright protected CAD file via a thumb drive with a friend, without permission from the files owner would be considered copyright infringement.

Modifying / Creating Derivatives: Making a modification to an original copyrighted file creates a derivative work. Thus modifying a copyrighted CAD file without permission would be considered copyright infringement in many cases.

However, not all modifications result in a derivative work. Copying and modifying the uncopyrightable useful elements from the original file would not create a derivative work. Let’s use the file of a standard bed frame with an artistic headboard again. You could copy the standard bed frame into your own file, but alter the dimensions to lengthen the bed frame to fit a taller person. This new file does rely on the original file, but it is not a derivative because the bed frame design is not copyrightable on its own.

Publicly Displaying: In theory, a CAD file could be publicly displayed. There is no set number of people that need to be exposed to the file for it to count as “public”; though it certainly needs to be displayed to more than one person and beyond a group of friends and family. For example, let’s say there was an art exhibit that consisted of nothing more than several big screens showing CAD files of creative designs with no additional commentary. This would be a public display of a CAD file. Without getting permission from the copyright holder of the files creator, this art exhibit would be considered copyright infringement.

If someone prints a 3D-printable file (assuming they didn’t create the CAD file), do they own any the rights in the printed object?

It depends. Simply printing a 3D-printable file adds nothing to the file or object, thus 3D printing an object won’t create any new rights under copyright, patent or trademark law.

That said there are some limitations on what a person can do with the object. A few helpful tips to remember:

  • If the file wasn’t purchased outright and only a license to use the file was purchased (much like a song on iTunes) the terms of the contract will govern.
  • If the file was under a creative commons or other open license. Then the terms of the creative commons license or other open license will govern. The key thing to watch out for here is if the file was licensed under a creative commons non-commercial license. If this is the case, selling items printed using the file is not allowed.
  • If the item being printed is a functional object, like a spoon, without any creative elements the person printing the object would own the object. With the caveat that if the file infringed another person’s patent, you might own your copy but that copy would violate the patent owner’s patent.

If you have any other questions regarding 3D printing and the law please don’t hesitate to contact New Media Rights via our contact form.

Legal issues that arise from creating a 3D file by scanning an object

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If someone scans an existing object that they didn’t create, do they get a copyright in the file?

No, not from just scanning it.  Copyright protection is not granted for copies of creative works made by someone other than the original works copyright owner, even if those copies took time and skill to produce.  Copyright law only protects original creative works.   This is also true for 2D scanning in the real world. If a person scans a page of a book that doesn’t mean they own the copyright to that page of text.

The same is true for objects that have patented and trademarked elements. Scanning the patented or trademarked objects does not grant the person doing the scanning a patent or trademark rights in the file.

If the creator of an object scans the object they create, would they also own the copyright on the file?

Maybe. It really depends on whether the object they created contains protectable creative expression (protected) or simply functional and useful (not protected).

For objects that contain creative expression (sculptures, artistic engravings, action figures etc) the scan is a copy of the work. One of the rights granted to copyright holders is the exclusive right to copy the work. Although it’s unclear whether this scan would be separately copyrightable is an open question. On one hand scans of copyrighted works that incorporate pictures, written description or stories within the file may be separately copyrightable derivative works (that is a work based on another work). But that copyright would only cover the new additions to the work beyond the scan. However, if the file really is just a scan it’s unlikely to qualify as a derivative work because it really is only a copy of the work.

If a creator scans a useful object like a simple chair, then even if they created the chair they still wouldn’t have a copyright in the file because they are scanning and creating a copy of something that isn’t subject to copyright. In addition the file itself wouldn’t be subject to copyright because it is nothing more than a list of instructions for creating a useful object.

If the object is subject to a patent or trademark, merely scanning the object and creating a file will not create any additional ownership right beyond the pre-existing patent or trademark and copyright, if applicable.

When might scanning an object infringe another persons copyright, patent or trademark?

Copyright: If the entire object to be scanned is copyrighted, then scanning the object and creating a file without permission is a violation of the object creator’s copyright. For example, scanning a sculpture currently protected by copyright law and creating a CAD file based on that would violate the sculptor’s rights under copyright law, which allows them the exclusive right to make copies of their sculpture. Keep in mind that some sculptures may be in the public domain, especially sculptures created before 1923. This helpful table can also be used to help figure out if a sculpture is in the public domain.

If only some of the object to be scanned is copyrightable and the rest is useful, then scanning and creating a file based on the creative and non-useful part of the object without permission violates the object creator’s copyright. However, if you only scan the purely useful parts of the object and create a file based on you scan, there is no copyright infringement. For example, let’s assume the object is a standard bed frame with a headboard in the shape of a roaring lion.  Scanning the frame would not infringe the copyright owners copyright because the frame is useful and not subject to copyright law at all. However, scanning the decorative roaring lion part of the headboard would be copyright infringement because the roaring lion can be separated from the bed frame and stand alone as its own piece of art.

Patent: If the entire object to be scanned is patented simply scanning the object and making a CAD file without permission wouldn’t violate the patent. However, sharing that file or using it to print the patented object would.

If only some of the object is patented, again scanning the patented piece(s) would not by itself be considered patent infringement. However, sharing that file or using it to print the patented object would.

Keep in mind that there are “combination patents” which are made up of several unpatented pieces, but when put together create a patented combination. If you’re interested in scanning useful objects that may be patented, it might be a good idea to talk to a patent attorney.

Trademark: Because trademark law is intended to protect the public from confusion about product origin, trademark law simply doesn’t come into play when items are scanned for purely personal use. A further step – distribution to the public – is required for violation of the trademark. See “3D printing trademark basics.”

If you have any other questions regarding 3D printing and the law please don’t hesitate to contact New Media Rights via our contact form.
 

Guide to Intellectual Property & Fiscal Sponsorship Agreements for scientific, research, and archival projects

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Our newest guide is designed to help scientific, research, and archival projects understand Intellectual Property and other important considerations when entering a Fiscal Sponsorship relationship.  

Are you an individual, researcher, scientist, small laboratory, or archivist interested in collaborating with a larger non-profit? Then you may need a fiscal sponsorship agreement. A fiscal sponsorship is when a non-profit organization offers their legal and tax-exempt status to an unincorporated project engaged in activities related to the sponsor’s mission.  It typically involves a fee (or percentage of donations) paid by the project to the sponsor in exchange for the sponsor non-profit’s administrative support and any other activites agreed upon and documented in the fiscal sponsorship agreement.

When entering a fiscal sponsorship, most people are primarily concerned with receiving the benefits of a larger supporting organization and being able to accept tax deductible donations.  However, in the rush to get things going, individuals often forget to ask some very important questions and can end up signing away their rights to their research, equipment, and even the name of their project. 

This guide will help you understand and clarify ownership of intellectual property rights when entering a fiscal sponsorship agreement. It will also identify some of the key considerations when entering a fiscal sponsorship agreement as a small lab or research project. 

Help us reach our next 1000 clients!

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We've provided free and nominal fee legal services in over 1000 matters since 2008! These 1000 matters include creative projects, free speech, nonprofit services, and job-creating business ideas that may die on the vine, or be the victim of improper censorship without these services. But we can't do it without your help!  We're asking for your donation now to ensure our services will be available to the next 1000 clients who need it.

Your donation will help ensure we have the resources to reach a wide variety of clients to provide critical legal services. Clients much like Anita Sarkeesian. Here is her story of how we helped her fight improper takedowns of her pop culture critiques.  

Fine print to plain english: things to look out for as a Kindle World author

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Photo Courtsey of  Jemimus Attribution 2.0 Generic

With books like Fifty Shades of Grey flying off the shelves, the question of the commercialization of fan fiction is once again at the forefront. While fan fic authors have been steadfastly devoted to their art since before the Internet, emerging technologies have brought about new scrutiny to what this community really means for traditional media giants and who, if anyone, should be able to profit from fan fiction.

About a year ago, Jeff Bezos decided to set aside some digital real estate just for the fan fic community. Amazon’s Kindle Worlds is an e-book publishing platform for fan fiction, and works like this: Amazon partners with copyright owners, like Alloy Entertainment, who license to Amazon its fan fiction publication rights. These licensors are known as “World Licensors,” and by licensing their “World,” fans can create and profit off of their fan fiction through a royalty system.

Among the first “Worlds” that made up this new universe were CW’s Gossip Girl, The Vampire Diaries, and Pretty Little Liars. Kindle Worlds has since added G.I. Joe, Veronica Mars, and seventeen other Worlds. The question is, why would readers buy works from Amazon when there is an endless supply of free fan fic from other Internet sites? Fanfiction.net, for one, is the world’s largest fan fiction archive and forum where writers and readers come together to do just this.  The recently launched Archive of Our Own (created by the Organization for Transformative Works) is another space online where fans have come together to share their  fan faction and other original fan works in a non-commercial space.

The difference of utilizing the Kindle Worlds platform has been boiled down to three main points: (1) monetization for authors (each e-book costs between $0.99 to $3.99, but this is set by Amazon); (2) does not require constant Internet connectivity; and (3) a minimal level of quality that Amazon ensures by having final say on what will be made available. See Kindle Worlds Publishing Agreement Section 7(c).

On that note, we’re going to get real with the Kindle Worlds Publishing Agreement. Here’s what we found to be important to keep in mind if you are, or are considering to become, a Kindle Worlds author.

New Media Rights @ VidCon 2014!

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New Media Rights is excited to announce that we’ll be returning to VidCon 2014, THE conference for YouTubers. VidCon will take place at the Anaheim Convention Center June 26-28. And this year you’ll have a chance for a double dose of NMR copyright YouTube goodness!

If you’re attending the industry track, catch Executive Director Art Neill on the “Copyright on YouTube?” panel at 3pm Thursday in room 213.  In addition to Art, the panel will feature in house council from innovative companies like Corridor Digital and Loudr.

If you’re attending on the community track, you'll also have a chance to catch an awesome panel on copyright entitled appropriately enough “Copyright on YouTube” at 11am on Friday in room 202. Jon Bailey, the voice of Honest Movie Trailers will moderate the panel which will focus on the practicalities of copyright on YouTube.

So if you’re at VidCon, please stop by and check out these amazing panels!

Executive Director Art Neill to speak on user-generated and "fan" content at Copyright Society of the USA's Annual Meeting

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New Media Rights Executive Director Art Neill will be speaking on a panel Monday June 8 regarding user-generated content and fan productions at the Copyright Society of the USA's 2014 Annual Meeting.

FYI: US Copyright Office registration fees have increased

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As of May 1, 2014, the US Copyright Office has updated its fee schedule resulting in increased fees across most of its services. The following are three of the most relevant changes:

  • Fees for online applications are now $55, up from $35.
  • Fees for paper applications are now $85, up from $65.
  • The price of determining if some works are in the public domain is now $200 an hour, up from $165 an hour.

However, not all online registration fees are going up. If you have a single work to register (like a book) that was not a work made for hire, the registration fee will remain $35! A complete list of the new fees can be found here.

New Media Rights joins Electronic Frontier Foundation in urging reconsideration of dangerous Garcia v Google copyright ruling

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New Media Rights has joined the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, and others in filing an Amicus Brief urging a federal appeals court to reconsider it's decision to order Google to take down the controversial "Innocence of Muslims" video in Garcia v Google.

Most of our work at New Media Rights is preventative and transactional, focused on helping people avoid legal problems and lengthy court battles before they begin. In this case, however, we've joined in filing this Amicus Brief because the recent decision, if not reconsidered, will have negative consequences for free speech that will directly affect the creators and innovators we assist.

As it stands, the court's decision threatens to create sprawling, poorly defined copyright protection in a variety of creative contributors, altering the way that copyright law protects contributions to film and video productions.

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