Venture Beat: Copyright Can’t Keep Up with 3D Printing

Venture Beat has an article by Ricardo Bilton making the (increasingly popular) point that copyright law can’t and won’t keep up with the spread and development of low cost 3D printing. The law, through courts or legislation, just doesn’t move fast enough and bad laws could cause more problems than they solve.

I’d just like to add a minor counterpoint: we’ve seen this before. There have been many disruptive technologies that have moved faster than copyright and other laws. When laws have finally been implemented to deal with these technologies, they are often inadequate in various ways. But the sky hasn’t fallen (though some haven’t survived). Rather, powerful forces of demand mean people generally end up getting what they want, sometimes to the detriment of traditional industry.

I would argue the 1998 U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is an example that shows how industry business response is often as or more important than regulatory or legislative response. The DMCA was government’s attempt to save the day when digital music piracy began to seriously threaten the traditional big label music industry (and other industries seemed to face looming danger). Consider that a key element of the DMCA was the legal protection of DRM (digital rights management) technological measures to guard digital content from unauthorized copying. The RIAA which represents the major record labels helped champion the DMCA and DRM.

But DRM protections made digital content less desirable and therefore drm-free pirated music was made relatively more desirable. After 2009, the RIAA walked away from DRM and parts of the DMCA, iTunes dropped DRM from all music files and sales of digital music have continued to increase every year since then. Now, DRM is the exception, not the rule for digital song files.

My point is that industries can try to find legal solutions (lawsuits, the DMCA) or business solutions (drm-free iTunes) to deal with disruptive technologies. But you have to recognize that, as Venture Beat and others have pointed out, the law rarely moves immediately in the right direction to help those who are negatively affected by massive change.

Better to understand the law we have and make smart business decisions, while taking a long view to helping push the law in the right direction.

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