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Monday, 8 August 2016

Book Review: Socio--legal Aspects of the 3-D Printing Revolution

The cost to businesses will reach $100B by 2018! 3-D printed guns! Quick, panic! Despite 3-D being printing a fascinating area for legal analysis, we've not seen much scholarly analysis of the subject. This is slowly changing, as this new book by Angela Daly demonstrates.  Socio-legal Aspects of the 3-D Printing Revolution is a concise, engaging overview of the dominant intellectual property, privacy and social aspects relating to the legal and regulatory infrastructure of additive manufacturing, a.k.a. 3-D printing, industry.

Daily sets out her arguments in the social and economic changes brought about by 3-D printing. A key argument is that 3-D printing is ushering in a new era of "the end of scarcity."  Scarcity is the principle that we have unlimited wants, but limited resources. Daly largely argues for that the internet has dramatically reduced the costs (limits) of information and digital goods.  She also argues that recycling in 3-D printing means resources can be reused infinitely. However, scarcity is a key tenant of economics. The end of scarcity would be the economic equivalent of a perpetual motion machine. Resources on the internet (information and digital goods) might appear to be infinite initially, but there is always a cost associated (e.g. time, electricity) - hence scarcity.  Recycling involves wastage and is therefore finite. However, Daly's point is largely that the limitations of costs and resources have been dramatically reduced by new technologies.

Norman Rockwell Vol.97, No.4
ISSN 0161-7370
A common thread in regulation of innovative technologies is how to balance incentivising innovation and protecting society, while leaving room for new innovations and civil liberties. Daly highlights the risk of over-enforcement of IP, in particular through the use of DMCA takedown notices. She notes digital rights management (DRM) and technical protection measures (TPM) could restrict interoperability, leading to consumer lock-in and restricting consumer choice and market competition. She argues that over-enforcement (this is generally true for all IP and law) could lead to corporations developing dominant market positions.

A fascinating chapter on scanning, cleverly entitled "Selfies in another dimension," looks at IP and reverse engineering in 3-D scanning. Citing existing scholarship that reverse engineering in traditional manufacturing industries encourages the spread of knowledge, Daly notes that 3-D scanning significantly reduces the costs, while increasing the possibilities, of reverse engineering. She also discusses a lack of harmonisation between jurisdictions on the approach to copyright protection of CAD files. In particular, the US tends to not grant copyright protection to utilitarian 3-D scans, while its status in the UK is less clear

Another thread to Daly's arguments are the parallels between the Internet and 3-D printing. Both are clearly disruptive technologies and raise intellectual property concerns. Yet this narrative is problematic. Daly notes that 3-D printing remains a question mark, "However, given the political economy of 3-D printing development as consumer-accessible technology, the involvement of the nation-states and large corporations as well as individuals in its use, it would seem that those who proclaimed 3-D printing as a liberatory technology bringing about the end of scarcity and end of control - as with the Internet - have done so prematurely." There is a logical inconsistency in comparing the intangibility of the Internet to the physicality of 3-D printing. From a practical perspective, the narrative that industry (particularly rights holders), has adopted with the Internet and consumer use of copyrighted digital goods, has proven incredibly counterproductive. Framing consumers as pirates and digital goods as vulnerable assets has not served the music and other industries well. Let's hope 3-D printing does not fall down a similar rabbit hole.
Low Poly Stanford Bunny, Creative Tools

I enjoyed the writing style and balanced approach to this book.  While I have objections to some of the arguments, Daly's writing is persuasive and considers a wide variety of perspectives and topics (including the printing of dangerous objects and Internet privacy.) This book is very appealing for legal professionals and students looking to understand 3-D printing and its interaction with socio-legal aspects.  The references are a veritable who's-who in 3-D printing and legal scholarship. All in all, an excellent book which covers a vast topic in a succinct and expert manner.

Socio-legal aspects of the 3-D printing revolution, by Angela Daly is published by Palgrave McMillan parentheses 2016) IBM and 978-1-137-51555-1. Cost: £35.99 for e-book, £45 for hard copy. Rupture factor: low, this concise book runs 122 pages.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

More on political aspects: http://www.igi-global.com/article/a-new-printing-revolution-3d-printing-as-an-agent-of-socio-political-change/152808

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