Today is is even more clear that copyright law does not prevent you from using whatever material you want in your 3D printer.1
That is because today the Register of Copyrights submitted her recommendations on the petitions to exempt various activities from 17 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1)(A). In practice, this document gives people permission break digital locks for specific purposes.2 Whatever you call it, the recommendations include granting the request to expand the scope of the current rule that allows you to unlock your 3D printer and use the material of your choice.
As I explained in a previous post, every three years the Copyright Office gets to give people permission to break digital locks for specific purposes. In the past, the Copyright Office had included permission to break any digital lock that prevented someone from using the material of their choice in a 3D printer.
This was good, but the language could have been tightened up a bit. So, this year, I submitted a request to slightly modify the language of the rule in two ways.
First, I asked the Copyright Office to change the word they used to describe ‘what you put in your 3D printer’ from ‘feedstock’ to ‘material’. ‘Feedstock’ was a word left over from previous rulemakings and ‘material’ is much more widely adopted. To be clear, it is 100% my fault that the Copyright Office started using ‘feedstock’ so I am glad to be able to end that practice with this year’s rule.
Second, I asked the Copyright Office to remove language that only gave permission to break digital locks that were ‘microchip-reliant’. This seemed like an unnecessary restriction on the rule. If a digital lock was preventing the use of a third party material, there was not a good reason to litigate whether or not that lock was ‘microchip-reliant’.
The Copyright Office did both of those things. The new class is described as:
Computer programs that operate 3D printers that employ technological measures to limit the use of material, when circumvention is accomplished solely for the purpose of using alternative material and not for the purpose of accessing design software, design files, or proprietary data.
Both the petition to renew the original exemption and the petition to make these changes went unopposed (thank you to both the Free Software Foundation and NTIA for supporting the changes). Hopefully that means that the rule will be fairly stable going forward, and that renewing it again in three years will be a straightforward affair. Stay tuned for that, I guess?
Why would copyright law prevent you from using the material of choice in your 3D printer anyway? It shouldn’t even be a thing that we are worrying about. However, Lexmark tried this foolishness with 2D printers back in the day and lost. Part of the purpose of requesting this exemption is to try and avoid having to litigate that point again for 3D printers. ↩
Technically, what is happening here is that the Register of Copyrights is making a recommendation to the Librarian of Congress as to what activities should be exempted from the prohibitions on circumvention contained in 17 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1)(A). In practice the Librarian almost always follows these recommendations. ↩