As I explained earlier this year, we are in the middle of an every-three-year process whereby the U.S. Copyright Office gives communities permission to break DRM for specific purposes. In the past, the Copyright Office has included breaking DRM that locks 3D printers to materials from the printer manufacturer on its list.
In addition to requesting a renewal of the 3D printer exemption for the next three years, I also asked the Copyright Office to make two tweaks. The text of the current rule is:
Computer programs that operate 3D printers that employ microchip-reliant technological measures to limit the use of feedstock, when circumvention is accomplished solely for the purpose of using alternative feedstock and not for the purpose of accessing design software, design files, or proprietary data.
The first tweak was to replace
material. While both of these terms can be used to describe the stuff that printers use to make things, in the time since the original rule was written “material” has been more widely adopted by the industry and community. Updating the language will hopefully avoid any ambiguity in interpreting how it applies
The second tweak was to remove the
microchip-reliant language from the exemption. I think that this qualifier is unnecessary. If a printer manufacturer uses DRM to limit third party material, and that DRM falls within the Copyright Office’s authority to regulate, the DRM should fit within the exemption granted by the Copyright Office. Leaving the additional language in the exemption just adds something else that people could litigate over, which would be a waste of everyone’s time.
What happens now? According to the Copyright Office’s website about this process, comments from anyone who opposes this modified exemption are due on February 9 (instructions for filing comments are on the website if you want to oppose it). Replies to those opposition comments (as well as comments from people who have an interest in the issue but do not take a side) are due March 10. If history is any guide, at some point after that the Copyright Office will hold hearings on the proposed exemptions. It is reasonable to expect the new rules by the end of 2021.