3D Printing Hits a Strange Milestone: Shape Pirates and Copyright Claims

penrose 3D Printing Hits a Strange Milestone: Shape Pirates and Copyright ClaimsDutch designer Ulrich Schwanitz recently printed up the impossible, using a 3D printer to create the Penrose Triangle, a famous optical illusion.

The achievement created a little buzz in design circles, but since Schwanitz refused to reveal his design, admirers were left with just a few tantalizing screen shots.  The Dutch dynamo did post a video of his Penrose Triangle being fabricated and made the object available on New York based Shapeways for $70 bucks.

A few weeks later, a former Shapeways intern named Artur Tchoukanov watched the video and cracked the code on how to print the Penrose. He uploaded a set of instructions that would let anyone create the shape to Thingaverse, an open source site dedicated to 3D printing. Boing Boing reblogged the story and Cory Doctorow mistakenly credited Tchoukanov as the originator of the design.

Schwanitz, feeling his copyright had been infringed, posted a take down notice to Thingaverse, which complied. “For better or worse, we’ve hit a milestone in the history of digital fabrication,” Thingaverse and Makerbot founder Bre Pettis told Ars Technica.

A weekend of back and forth sniping ensued. It wasn’t just the fact that this was a community typically committed to sharing ideas. It was also the first time such a legal threat had been leveled at this sort of DIY 3D printing.

“We have of course seen precedents with music, game and movies being pirated and shared, but the relatively small size of the community make this a little more intimate. The fact that this is being played out between two or three people, but watched by many more, who are all passionately involved in pushing design forward with 3D printing may have fueled this to move into a awkward position incredibly quickly, all unfolding within two weeks.” wrote the folks at Shapeways. “It has raised serious issues that we need to discuss as a community to ensure the vibrancy and innovation is not crippled by legal interference.”