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?