May 1 marked (what is probably) the final written phase of the Copyright Office’s 1201 proceeding, a proceeding which includes the petition to allow users to “unlock” their 3D printer in order to print in materials not approved by the printer manufacture.  The original petition is available here, and the original comment in support from while I was at Public Knowledge is available here. After responses in opposition from the 3D printer company Stratasys and the trade group the Intellectual Property Owners Association, the final written round was an opportunity for supporters of the exemption to respond to the opposition. My response is here, and Public Knowledge’s response (written by Sherwin and Raza) is here.

PK’s response is better than mine, challenging some of the procedural and legal assertions made by opponents and highlighting why people advocating for the exemption should not have the burden of explaining every possible way someone might want to circumvent any possible technical protection measure.  This is important because such a requirement would essentially mean that only people with access to fairly sophisticated engineering resources could apply for an exemption.  PK argues (correctly, of course) that the proper reading of the requirement is that proponents of an exemption simply describe a category of works.  This significantly lowers the burden for average people who might want to apply for an exemption without having a dual law and engineering degree.

My response was more straightforward and focused mostly on Stratasys’ opposition (in my defense, the IPO’s opposition comments were brief and pretty much every point it made was also found in the Stratasys opposition).  The theme of my response is summed up fairly well in its introduction:

In defending the practice of leveraging copyright law to limit customer choice in 3D printer material, opponents argue that limiting customer choice helps support development of new 3D printing material.  Opponents argue that limiting consumer choice helps support servicing and maintaining printers. Opponents argue that limiting consumer choice helps keep printer prices down. Opponents argue that limiting consumer choice helps with print precision.  Opponents argue that limiting consumer choice helps to monitor the status of prints and of printing materials.  Opponents argue that limiting consumer choice helps avoid fire hazards and leads to an increase in positive health outcomes.

I find many of these claims suspect.  However, they do not matter. None of them have anything to do with copyright law. As such, for the purposes of this proceeding, I do not question any of these claims.

Stratasys spent over 30 pages of legal argument explaining how preventing consumer choice in 3D printing materials might make Stratasys’ machines work worse and undermine Stratasys’ ability to use profits from materials sales to support innovation in machines and materials.  3D printers and 3D printer materials are beyond the scope of copyright so, even if these claims are true, they are irrelevant to the Copyright Office proceeding. In fact, they pretty much highlight one of the problems created by this process in the first place: it gives manufacturers of goods that have little to nothing to do with copyright industries a pretext to try and control goods after sale.  Essentially they are trying to use the provision of the law as a way to undermine the fact that their customers actually own the printers the customers purchase.

Stratasys also commissioned a 15 page study about how preventing consumers from using other sources of 3D printing material actually helps consumers.  I didn’t spend very much time addressing that point.  Suffice to say that there isn’t anything special about 3D printing in regard to this sort of cost recovery, so if the report is true consumers really should be clamoring for the elimination of all sorts of third party vendors in all sorts of industries.

Now that the written comment rounds are over, we move onto the hearing phase later on this month.  If you are in LA or DC you can come and see them in person.

Finally, I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who weighed in both through the right to repair site and as individuals through the Copyright Office site.  This kind of mass public participation is critical to proving to the Copyright Office that this is more than some theoretical problem conjured up by some pesky advocates.

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