In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we discussed copyright issues for 3D printers. Not all companies have made the decision to jump into the world of 3D printing. Parts 1 and 2 may not have applied to you at all. However, no matter your business, your company may have to deal with a third party printing your company’s product, in violation of your rights.
If a direct competitor has begun printing a product which is clearly in violation of your copyright, enforcement is relatively straight forward. However, the scary (and revolutionary) thing about 3D printers is that anyone can print your product from the comfort of their easy chair. Infringers are no longer restricted to the few businesses that can afford to ramp up large-scale production. How do you handle enforcement if the infringer is a relatively small time start-up? What if the infringer is a fan of your product?
With smaller infringers, your strategy may be to bring the hammer down, and that may be the correct way to go. However, remember that the 3D printer instructions for how to print a copy of your product are electronic. Like anything electronic, they can be disseminated widely at the drop of a hat or the click of a mouse. If a third party has managed to render a recreation of your product, those printing instructions could be transmitted around the world within seconds of receiving your sternly worded cease and desist letter. Worse, there are already numerous repositories and databases online for 3D printing instructions. Uploading your product’s design to one or more of those repositories would effectively put it in the hands of tens of thousands of 3D printers. This is the Internet age. We have to remember that when evaluating enforcement strategies. This is something to talk over with your IP attorney.
When it comes to fans of your brand, many companies have had great success with a less forceful strategy. Threatening to rain down fire and brimstone on a fan of your product seems unwise for so many reasons. Not only are you turning off that fan, you may also turn off others.
Coca-Cola® famously adopted a popular fan-created Facebook page as their own official page, rather than demand that the two creators shut the page down. Similarly, Jack Daniels® once sent what has to be the nicest cease and desist letter of all time to a fan that had used a modified version of their famous logo as the cover of his novel. In both cases, rather than go on the attack, the company treated its fans with a delicate hand. And importantly, in both cases, the company got exactly what it wanted, without losing fans. In the end, that’s what matters.