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Could 3-D printers cause intellectual property disputes?

When 3-D printers first hit the market, consumers saw a sticker price of about $10,000 or more. But now, as the technology continues to advance and the demand for such products increases, we're not seeing that price fall to a more reasonable price that consumers are willing to pay.

But despite the allure of what 3-D printers could do for the everyday person, it's also raising some important concerns about breaking copyright laws and intellectual property violations as well.

Point in case is the website Thingiverse, run by a company called Makerbot that specializes in 3-D printers and printing designs. Recently, they received a takedown notice from Moulinsart which owns the rights to the cartoon Tintin. On Thingiverse's website was a set of printing designs for Tintin's cartoon moon rocket, a design Moulinsart argued was a serious violation of copyright law.

Although Moulinsart was well within its legal right to request that the designs be taken down-to which Thingiverse complied-it does raise the important questions of how companies are going to react to the new technology and how far are they willing to protect what is theirs?

Most people in the state of Florida are under the impression that it's only considered a violation of copyright law if they copy something then make a profit off of it. But in most cases, the simple act of copying it can constitute as intellectual property theft. Because 3-D printers allow a person to scan any object then replicate it using the printer, without even realizing it everyday people could find themselves in the middle of a business litigation suit.

But how will companies enforce what could become a widespread issue in the future? How will companies and lawmakers distinguish between clear violations and more innocent motives? As the technology speeds ahead, unfortunately our laws do not. And without the law on either side of the issue, it's concerning to think that the years ahead could be filled with more lawsuits than anticipated.

Source: NPR, "As 3-D Printing Becomes More Accessible, Copyright Questions Arise," Steve Henn, Feb. 19, 2013

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