Thingiverse's first DMCA notice

[Inaugural post of the rebuilt site! Adapted from my comment over at Hack a Day]

So it looks like Thingiverse has received its first DMCA takedown notice. For those unaware of what Thingiverse is, it's a site that provides freely downloadable designs for use with 3d printing technologies. If you imagine a website where instead of downloading books or music you can download physical objects, that's pretty much what it is.

When the MPAA produced an ad in 2004 that said "You wouldn't steal a car, would you?" in reference to downloading movies online, the nearly immediate response form the internet was "F*** You. I would if I could download it!" Many technologists have been wondering when the day would come when this would turn from a joke into an actual expression of disobedience to copyright law. Thingiverse getting a DMCA takedown notice is notable because it shows that the world where you can download valuable objects like a car is now on the horizon and therefore a big battle over copyright of 3d objects is coming.

Unfortunately, judging by the comments over at Hack a Day, it looks like the hacking community is not really informed enough about IP law to fight abuses of copyright in this new realm. So I'd like to clarify a few things, if anyone is listening:

-- This DMCA takedown notice is not claiming patent or trademark infringement, only copyright. Any discussion of "prior art" (patents) or "dilution" (trademarks) is off-base. Copyright, patent, and trademark law are related, but they address very different aspects of protecting intellectual property. It's important to understand the difference between the purpose behind each set of laws and their details. There's far too much commentary on the internet regarding intellectual property law that confuses the three and we don't need any more.

-- The person who sent the DMCA notice of course has copyright on his original design. As a sculpture, it is a considered a copyrightable work, and due to the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988 it was automatically protected the moment he made it, no filing necessary. As a copyrighted work he has the right to control how copies of his work are created (the very definition of "copyright"). Incidentally, this is why you can't always take pictures of sculptures in museums as a picture of a sculpture is considered a derivative work, if not a form of duplication.

-- However, there is a question as to whether this is an abuse of the DMCA or not (many will argue that issuing any DMCA takedown notice is an abuse). I have no legal training, but I would guess it comes down to the question of using technology to circumvent copyright control measures. The "copyright control" mechanism here is the difficulty of recreating a physical object, rather than DRM software or some other piece of technology.

Which brings me to a thought experiment: Suppose someone publishes a DRM'ed copy of sheet music to an original composition on a pay-for-download site. I listen to a *recorded version* of the composition, transcribe it, and make my transcription freely downloadable. This is, without question, a copyright violation. But is it a DMCA violation? I don't think so, but I can imagine that an lawyerly argument can be made toward my use of transcription software, sound software, making it available on a website, etc. comprising tools for the circumvention of copyright controls. That's quite a stretch, but a judge may see it that way.

Either way, the hassle of DMCA is now part of the world of amateur 3d printing.