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Will proposed 3D printing laws bear fruit?

3D printing is touted as the next big revolution in the manufacturing industry. With the cost of 3D printers coming down remarkably low, there has been a huge rise in popularity and availability among the general public in recent times.

But despite the potential socio-economic and technological advantages, a lot of legal issues have cropped up regarding its use. These FAQs may throw some light on the matter:

Why the furore over 3D printing?

First and foremost are the implications it poses to intellectual property rights. Use of 3D printers can violate copyright, trademarks and patent laws, due to the ease of creation of unauthorized versions of patented products or copyright infringement of designs.

Furthermore, an even more serious ramification of 3D printing is that anyone can use it to print illegal and hazardous objects, like guns or parts for weaponry. Obviously this could have serious consequences in the wrong hands.

What is the current legal position?

At present, there isn’t any Australian law that exclusively addresses all the dimensions of this technological advancement. But, some argue that existing legislation such as the Copyright Act, the Intellectual Property Act, Firearms-Control legislation and policy, etc. already have sufficient provisions to address the majority of the concerns legally.

However, the Australian Senate is already giving consideration to this issue and is in the process of coming up with appropriate regulations.

According to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee’s reports submitted on 25 September 2014, the law enforcement, state and federal governments are looking to regulate 3D printing, especially guns and weaponry, even though many Australian senators feel that existing laws are adequate.

Do we need new laws?

Last year, a bill was introduced by Palmer United Party (PUP) in Queensland under which anyone holding, distributing or making 3D printed weapons would come under a special licensing scheme, and uploading a weapon design online would be deemed illegal.

Demands are being made to stifle the production of 3D printers and place restrictions on manufacturers, and laws are being urged to prevent “illicit” 3D printer use.

While many of the concerns over this new technology deserve consideration, moves to choke 3D printer manufacturers or service providers with new stringent laws isn’t a viable answer either. We must understand that digitized content distribution cannot be fully barred from the public, and anyone with some technical knowledge can now actually make his or her own printer at home.

Furthermore, the public has every right to enjoy the benefits of this amazing new technology as long as the usage is fair in the existing legal context. However, maybe it’s time to make existing laws “clearer” in the new context, or perhaps we may not need any new laws at all – time will tell. Either way, the regulations should hold the end user responsible for any illegal usage of 3D printed products, and manufacturers or commercial service providers should be free from any legal liability for illegal use.

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