The 3-D Printing Pirates Who Could Render SOPA Meaningless

fake bags

The Pirate Bay loves to be controversial—how could it not be, with its very existence an affront to much of the political mechanisms of American government? And now the organization is suggesting something that, in the light of the semi-failed SOPA/PIPA attempt to regulate the Net and squash piracy, casts an interesting light on the future of file pirating: What will happen in terms of IP rights and piracy when 3-D printed objects become commonplace?

Pirate Bay has labeled these 3-D objects "physibles," "data objects that are able (and feasible) to become physical," and suggests that in the near future it's files of physibles that'll be the hottest pirated data online, in the same way music, movies, and TV shows are nowadays. That's because the file for a physible is effectively the recipe for making the final object—which could quite possibly be a handbag, a mug, or ultimately something as complex as a sneaker.

The legal and intellectual wrangling goes like this: If you've got a sophisticated 3-D printer on your desk, sometime around 2020, say, pirating a physible from a site like Pirate Bay and then printing it out is almost the same as stealing the object from a store. Almost. Because no physical "theft" has happened, and you're merely borrowing the idea, the IP. Yet you are still denying the company that originally came up with the idea any payment. That argument is at the core of the SOPA/PIPA debate, and it's partly why the U.S. just crashed Megaupload's party so very enthusiastically

But 3-D printing tech is advancing incredibly fast, both in terms of expensive research systems and home versions like the new dual-color one from MakerBot Industries (recently demonstrated at CES). Soon you really may be able to print out a product that is almost indistingushable from one made by Gucci, or designed by Porsche. It's easy to imagine the government clamping down on that, no doubt prompted by some expensive lobbyists and political fund "donations." But how would you regulate a system where files are shared via Pirate Bay that simply let you print out a "Porsche-esque" plastic object?

[Image: Flickr user tet_sy]

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  • Adam

    This article is just sensationalist garbage and if you fall for it you're an idiot. First off, all the links either point to the same website, other blog-type sites that are just as shady, or articles that tell a completely different story. Secondly, current 3D printer technology uses - much like ink printers - a single liquid material that gets projected layer by layer to create basically a sculpture. A technology that would be able to store as liquids the materials required to print items like shoes, handbags or mugs - we're talking about stuff like leather and textile - is nothing more than science fiction at this stage, and it would be ridiculous to claim it might exist by 2020, let alone 2050.

  • sivam krish

    This will inevitably disincentivize content creation. The business model of  3D print portals are based on designers being able to monetize their work. The implications may be significant ?

  • Todd Blatt

    Or it will incentivize content creators to make more things and share their work.  see, which is choc full of new content created by the public just because, and just to share.  I sell lots of my models and I also give a bunch of them away for free. 

  • Suzanne Lainson

    This is why America needs to look beyond copying the Chinese manufacturing model of having an army of employees ready to make your product on a moment's notice in the middle of the night. As technology improves and gets cheaper, people will make it at home with their 3-D printers. The disruptions will continue.