Intellectual Property Protection via Embracement of the Technology of the Internet

3-D Printing Your Way Down The Garden Path:

3-D printers, the copyrightization of patents, and a method for manufactures to avoid the entertainment industry’s fate.

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author: Joseph Storch, Associate Counsel at State University of New York’s Office of General Counsel.

Joseph Storch who works in State University of New York’s Office of General Counsel delves into the issue of intellectual property protection in the new digital age of the internet in his published work: 3-D Printing Your Way Down The Garden Path. He considers the mistakes made during the Napster-to-ITunes debacle of the recording industry as a concrete example of the sway the internet in changing the perspective of acceptable pricing, social norm, legal framework and finally moral attitude of the industry and consumers.

Intellectual property protection is essential to the sustained creation of original work; however, Storch explains that Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. constitution establishes copyright law with the intent to “advance knowledge for the public interest, not simply protect artists and inventors”. A balance must be maintained between giving content creators time to recoup profit (thereby providing incentive for them and others to continue to produce original work) and providing a benefit to the public (the main agenda of copyright law). Intellectual property is mainly protected through the monopoly held by the original creator. Storch describes three distinct types: technological, legal, and moral.

With the introduction of Napster to the internet by Sean Fanning in 1991 (#1, page 258), the RIAA’s technological monopoly of forcing users to pay premium prices for purchasing physical albums of music died. This spurred a half-decade long war between the music industry and consumers over the fair price and reasonable access to individual songs. The RIAA took drastic steps against individual consumers who illegally downloaded their intellectual property. The most significant step from this tactic was that the RIAA established a price for downloading music. They transformed the moral issue of the illegality of copyright infringement into the simple choice of weighing the cost against the benefit. The majority of music consumers on the internet quickly decided that the statistically unlikely event of getting caught would at most only cost $3000 to $4000 in settlement fines. Storch correctly points out “once lawsuits turned exchange of copyright files over peer-to-peer networks from a moral issue to a market issue, the question was not right or wrong, but simply what is the price?” (#1, page 265)

The force of the internet is strong; as new technology is invented like peer-to-peer file sharing, it’s not a question of should it be allowed but rather how long can you really fight against it? Napster may have died and the Pirate Bay may have been forced to move to the Netherlands but we now have the legal option to purchase music and movies at a fair price in a reasonable way over the internet through ITunes, Google Play, Spotify, Pandora, Netflix, et cetera. A current example of this is Uber’s battle with regulators over if it should be treated as a Taxi provider. Uber has forced 18 states to sidestep the issue by treating Uber in a different classification from Taxis (Uber doesn’t provide rides but rather just provides the interface to arrange rides) (source #2). Storch explained an experiment conducted were a daycare provider established a fee structure for picking up kids late. The experiment showed:

“‘number of occurrences of delay increased steadily in the first 3-4 weeks after the introduction of the fine .. [and] finally settled at a level that was higher, and almost twice as large as the initial one.’ Just as interesting, when the fine was later removed, the incidents of late retrieval did not return to its initial levels, but remained stable at the higher level when the fine was imposed.” (page 267). Storch argues this is because they transitioned the issue from a moral one to a “cost/benefit decision” much in the same way the music industry handled illegal downloading of music.”

In conclusion, Storch feels that the 3-d printing industry will soon face a similar choice as they make their way into residential homes. He makes a strong case against engaging in a legal war with consumers who will quickly start using them to print intellectual property like brand name shoes or auto-parts at home cheaper than they can buy them from the manufactures. Storch points to the alternate solution gained from a historical look at the Napster battle. The 3-D printing industry needs to introduce a pricing model that engages the home user by providing fair reduced pricing for printing their product at home. Lego will likely be forced to make a decision on how to handle 3-D printers sooner than most; however, they already seem to be considering this notion through their online service Lego Digital Designer, which allows users to design their own sets that Lego will manufacture and ship for a fee. If manufactures embrace the technology by providing reasonable priced options to print their products at home, then they can avoid consumers taking things into their own hands. More importantly, as Netflix, ITunes, Google, Pandora, Spotify, and many others have proven, the digital landscape provides a very profitable opportunity to deliver intellectual property to consumers without the need of retailers. And it is very hard to argue the public’s benefit of cost effective 3-D printing on your doorstep, which if you remember was and is the original main intent of U.S. copyright law.

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