‘Maker culture’ and intellectual property

The ‘Maker’ movement, aided by 3D printing and other technologies, challenges current intellectual property laws, and requires participants to be IP-savvy.

Imagine taking a photo of a sculpture that you see in an art studio with your smartphone, turning that image into a digital file, and then printing out your own copy of the art work on a 3D printer.  Is that legal?  Is it fair or economically just? (Tierney, 2015). 

Those involved in ‘maker culture’, a DIY (do-it-yourself) movement aided by new and increasingly-affordable technologies such as 3D printing, face the challenge of having to learn about IP law both as creators and users of protected works.  If, in the example above, the sculpture includes a company logo, or if the work is a bottle of Coca-Cola, the picture-taker must contend with both copyright and trademark, or industrial design and trademark law.

  • Copyright - protects literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works (including blueprints) “which can be scanned and printed using 3D technologies, such as objects, models or sculptures” (Wexler, 2014). 
  • Industrial design - refers to the visual aspects of useful objects like shape, configuration, pattern or ornamentation applied to useful objects.  Examples include “a new shape for the hood or fenders of a car, the original pattern in a woven sweater or all of the visual features of a computer monitor” (Canadian Intellectual Property Office, 2014).
  • Trade-mark - a word, phrase, logo, symbol, design, or shape and packaging that distinguishes the source of goods and represents a company’s reputation.
  • Patent – protects inventions, including processes.

When reproducing or adapting a work, ‘makers’ must consider whether there are exceptions in the law that permit the reproduction, or whether they will be required to obtain permission or purchase a license that will allow them to reproduce the work legally. 

On the flip side, if creating their own original works, makers need to be sure that they take steps to protect their own intellectual property, especially if they want to commercialize their work.

3D printers provide “a new way to distribute and create media and object” and are a “new disruptive technology… that’s going to change things again the way the internet did,” which will mean new business models and IP changes in the next decade (Young, 2013).

For more information, contact Melanie Wrobel in the Copyright Office at copyrightofficer@royalroads.ca, or call 250-391-2652.

Works Cited

Canadian Intellectual Property Office. (2014). What are industrial designs? Retrieved from http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cipointernet-internetopic.nsf/eng/wr03717.html?Open&wt_src=cipo-id-main

Tierney, J. (2015, April 20). The Dilemmas of Maker Culture: Thinking through the consequences of the proliferation of powerful tools and technologies. Retrieved from The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/04/the-dilemmas-of-maker-culture/390891/

Wexler, Y. (2014, March). The Canadian legal landscape in 3D scanning and printing: The next frontier of IP law. Retrieved from Capital perspectives (Fasken Martineau): http://www.fasken.com/en/the-canadian-legal-landscape-in-3d-scanning-and-printing-the-next-frontier-of-ip-law/

Young, N. (2013, May 10). Is Canadian IP law equipped to deal with 3D printers? Retrieved from CBC Spark: http://sparkcbc.tumblr.com/post/50098163400/is-canadian-ip-law-equipped-to-deal-with-3d