While the IP saga of Left Shark lives on, at this point I think we have enough distance to try and determine if there are any larger lessons to be learned from this entire enterprise. From where we stand today I think it is safe to say that there is at least one.
As I’ve said more than once, one of the biggest issues connected to IP and 3D printing will simply be the process of people figuring out that not everything coming out of a 3D printer is protected by copyright. This is a huge shift from the past 15+ years, where the thing that most non-lawyers thought they needed to know about IP was “everything on your computer screen is protected by copyright.” The idea that just because someone (or some brand) is associated with an object doesn’t always give them the right to control that object flies in the face of that “folk copyright” and will take years to explain to people.
Sometimes neither side in a dispute will fully understand this concept. Other times one side will and the other won’t, and hijinks will ensue. But it may be that the real legacy of Left Shark will be to illustrate what happens when large purported rightsholders try and bluff their way through a conflict.
Although there are plenty of reasons to be annoyed at Katy Perry because of her attempts to control Left Shark, the one that seemed to annoy the most people was that she was trying to assert rights she simply did not have. Given the content (and missing content) of the letter, it seems at least likely that her lawyers understood that they did not actually have the right to demand the takedown of Left Shark but sent a scary letter anyway.
That gives rise to the lesson of Left Shark - however mad people get when a rightsholder pulls something beloved down from the internet, they get even angrier when someone pretending to be a rightsholder pulls something beloved down from the internet. In other words, there are real costs to overplaying your hand and trying to control objects, files, and ideas outside of your legal control. There are people willing to push back.
It is way too early in the history of widespread access to 3D printing to know if this type of reaction is a one-off or the beginning of a trend. And I don’t know if we will be richer or poorer as a people if “to left shark” evolves into a verb for overplaying your IP hand in the world of 3D printing. So for now all that needs to be said is that there is a lesson to be learned here and that I hope that rightsholders are paying attention.