Copyright and 3D printing

In my post DMCA does not cut it for 3D printing I wrote that copyright does not attach itself to objects under US copyright law. When the 3D model is not a one-to-one copy of the original 3D model file, copyright does not play a role in 3D printing. Though there are two exceptions, which I would like to highlight in this post.

Copyright is applicable to 3D printing when either:

  1. a copyrighted pattern is used on the 3D model
  2. rendering of the 3D model

Copyrighted pattern
A pattern is a distinguishing part of an object which can be recognized or read. You think of an embossed or extruded logo or texture of some copyrighted work. A texture of Mickey Mouse on a coffee mug is copyright infringement without permission from Disney. The coffee mug itself is no problem, it only deals with the pattern on the mug itself.

Rendering of the 3D model
When uploading a 3D model to a website, most of the time a digital photo / rendering is made of your model. This is 2D representation is handled differently than your 3D model from US copyright law perspective. It is no longer a functional object or description of a functional object. The copyright law becomes applicable, and you need to take care that the rendering is not infringing any existing copyrighted works.

When you do 3D printing, and sharing models with others, please keep in mind the two exceptions to determine, if copyright is applicable or not.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and my posts on intellectual property and law are based on my understanding of the law.