3D printing is a bit of a buzzword at the moment and its not the first time that this blogger has written about protection of IP rights in the 3D printer world. Rightsholders need to be thinking about how best to exploit 3D printing rather than how to avoid it, and one company that has done just that is Hasbro.
Rather than targeting creators of fan art to stop them customising the popular My Little Pony range (because, really trying to stop your fans from enjoying your product is not a great business proposition), Hasbro is going to partner with 3D printing company Shapeways to sell fan art.
Five artists will design My Little Pony figurines which can be printed to order. John Frascott, chief marketing officer at Hasbro, describes the process as "mass customisation" - the figurines don't make sense for mass manufacture but enough people will buy them that Hasbro can justify allowing the artists to create and sell them.
It's not clear whether the artists will be employed by Hasbro or whether they are merely granted permission to create fan art (likely the former, for Hasbro to retain control of any copyright created) but it is clear that this is a clear demonstration that we will see more and more customised goods in future, meaning more and more 3D printing.
What has this got to do with copyright?
Well ignoring any trade mark rights which Hasbro may have in My Little Pony, it is likely that the main IP rights subsisting in the figurines are copyright and/or design rights. This raises a few important questions, namely:
1. Are figurines artistic works for copyright purposes (the Storm Trooper helmets were not)?
2. If not, could they be works containing the author's own intellectual creation and so subject to copyright protection in the rest of Europe? (Or in the UK if the concept of a work is found to be harmonised…)
3. If copyright does subsist, will the proposed private copying exception allow people who have access to the design files to make copies for private use at home?
4. Will the files appear on P2P file-sharing sites, and if so how long before we see an application for a blocking injunction against counterfeit My Little Pony files?