3D Printing, Toy Mashups and Copyrights


There is a fascinating article in TechCrunch
on the continuing revolution that 3D printing is bringing to… well… it seems
like everything.  In the case of this
article by Michael Weinberg, “As Patent Drama Continues, 3D Printing Provides A
Way Out For
Mashup Creators,” it appears that 3D prinitng is going to be disruptive
to some of the rules of intellectual property ownership as well.

Weinberg notes that not surprisingly most
intellectual property (music, art, design, etc.) is protected by intellectual
property laws
.  You can’t, for example, take
Mickey Mouse and do a mashup with Skeletor and get away with it.

But what about things that exist in the
physical world?
Here is how he puts it:

There are plenty of reasons to be
excited about 3D printing, but one of them is that it moves beyond the world of
things protected by copyright…the physical world – the real world – is full of
… things that are not protected by copyright. In fact, the world is full of
things that are not protected by any sort of intellectual property right at
all. That means that you can take them and do whatever you want with them.

To illustrate his point, Weinberg points to
the “Free Universal Construction Kit” as the ultimate toy mashup.  Print it out on a 3D printer and you can link
10 different kinds of construction pieces together (Lego, Duplo, Fischertechnik, Gears!
Gears! Gears!
, K’Nex, Krinkles (Bristle Blocks), Lincoln
, Tinkertoys, Zome, and Zoob). 

Think of
what you can build.  According to
Weinberg you can do this because these are objects that are no longer covered
by their original patents
.  As he puts
“These toys are functional
objects so they are outside of the scope of copyright. While some of them
were patented when they

first came to market, patents only last 20 years. As
long as you stick with the toys that are no longer protected by patent, you can
remix them to your heart’s content.”

The challenge in successfully doing toy
mashups will demand an understanding of the difference between what is
functional and what is decorative. 
is how Weinberg puts it:

of the keys to this next generation of mashups will be a strong understanding
of how copyright interacts with physical objects. While copyright will not
protect functional objects, it will protect decorative ones. Understanding
functional vs. decorative will mean the difference between a mashup encumbered
by copyright and a mashup that is in the clear.

A rising generation that is used to doing mashups in
music and art is going to find some pretty interesting ways to work with toys
that we thought were either extinct or protected.  Are you hiring or
thinking of hiring mash-up artists? 
mashup artists approaching you with new ideas? 
Are you listening or turning them away. 
Let us know.

One thought

  1. Hey Richard, There is so much potential fro 3D printed toy mashups, so much fun.
    What would make it even more accessible is a ‘Mash-Up App’ for iOs devices so anyone can modify the toys, without the need to know how to 3D model.

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