Guide to 3D printing and the law

Remember that scene from “The Fifth Element” when Leeloo is reconstituted using her DNA as a blueprint? Did you ever want your own Replicator from Star Trek? Within the last few years, hype about 3D printing has steadily grown and the stuff of Sci-Fi dreams is closer to becoming a reality. 3D printing has already allowed surgeons to partially reconstruct a person’s face and even print food! We’re not quite all the way to having our own personal Replicator, but rapid advances in 3D printing are bringing us closer every day.

These rapid advances in technology also raise interesting new legal questions.For example:

  • Does the creator of a 3D-printable file always own the file?
  • What can or can’t be done with a 3D-printable file that is owned by someone else?
  • When an object is printed, who owns it?

The goal of this guide is to answer these types of questions as well as introduce you to 3D printing. In the spirit of keeping our answers short and straightforward, we have separated general intellectual property concepts and definitions into their own sections at the end of this guide so readers that want to learn more about any of the legal concepts in this guide can. If you are less familiar with copyright, trademark and patent law you might want to start by reading the sections specifically on these laws first before jumping into the rest of the guide.

Disclaimer: This guide is NOT a substitute for legal advice. A guide like this only serves to provide basic orientation and introduction to the topics discussed.


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.

****Special thanks to New Media Rights Intern Christine Brekke who helped write this guide****

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