Out of all the things that make 3D printing technology an exceptional tool, the close-knit community is a major driving force for the industry. Those with access to a desktop 3D printer can easily access a wide range of innovative 3D models for free, courtesy of the many skilled designers from all over the world. Platforms like Thingiverse and MyMiniFactory have become hubs for 3D printable content, giving someone without any design experience that ability to print at their heart’s desire.

But with this open and welcoming landscape is a major underlying problem, the copyright protection of these various 3D models. This dilemma reached its peak back in February, when Thingiverse user loubie noticed that an eBay account named Just3DPrint was selling thousands of 3D models (including hers) without any consent from the designers. The issue of copyright infringement has continued to arise, such as the recent case of respected designer Simone Fontana’s penny board.

Simone Fontana Penny Board

“The big issue is people are not well educated about copyright and license,” Fontana told us. “My personal experience was spending 1-2 hours every day checking Etsy, ebay and other platform where you can sell object to find all the people was selling my design or design of other designers that i know are sharing the model for personal use and not for making money from it.”

Fontana has since decided to move his design work over to Patreon, which allows followers to contribute money to the work of artists and designers. While the platform doesn’t offer straightforward IP security, Fontana has used non-disclosure agreements to try and protect himself from copyright infringement.

“I moved to Patreon because is a way to let people support your creation,” he said. “The platform doesn't have nothing special for security of your creation, but I let people sign an NDA before have access to my 3D model. That way, if they do something that I don't allow they will have legal problem,” said Fontana.

While most designers acknowledge to some extent, some of them don’t feel as protective over their work as Fontana does. Another extremely popular 3D designer, Agustin Flowalistik, has accepted the fact that 3D models won’t pay the bills, but continues to share his work for the sake of the community.

“I share all my work simply because I believe that keeping those designs for me would be the same as not having created them,” Flowalistik told us. “I can't make any money from them, so, what's the point? It makes me really happy to share, maybe one day I inspire someone to become a great designer.”

Although protective measures like Creative Commons licenses exist to protect artists and designers from copyright infringement, oftentimes it isn’t enough to stop someone determined to cash in on the work of other people. But the good news is that this close-knit community of designers are in it together, and if in the case of the eBay scandal, have enough of a voice to fight copyright infringement without the need for a pricey lawyer. For Flowalistik, he has decided to rely on the generosity of others in order to support his work.

“Creative Commons licenses have showed that they don't really work, as people can just ignore them. The only solution I found in my case is to use a semi-restrictive Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA) and in all my designs I include a link in case they want to make a small donation in case they liked my design. I do that because, being sincere, almost no one buys 3D printing files,” Flowalistik said.

In conclusion, you can see that 3D printing marketplaces are an amazing resource for 3D printer owners, but most of them lack protection from copyright infringement. But still, the works both ways. For example, Flowalistik’s most popular 3D models are based off of Pokemon, which the designer is not permitted to create for economic purposes.

Agustin Flowalistik Low Poly Pokemon

Instead, he has released them for free, and while this might not be legal in the eyes of Nintendo, it’s also not worth cracking down on someone sharing your brand and not capitalizing on it.

At the end of the day, the 3D printing community still exists in a world that is ruled by money, and thus 3D designs may not always be so openly shared. “There's no solution to this problem because the 3D printing industry as it works right now (99% of the content is free) goes against actual society (99% of what you do in real life costs money),” Flowalistik concluded. “One of those two will have to change, and we all know who will it be.”