Today I, along with the Owners’ Rights Initiative, filed a petition with the US Copyright Office asking them to renew the exemption that allows people to unlock their 3D printers and use whatever material in the printers they wish. This is a request to renew the exemption that the Copyright Office originally granted back in 2015. You can read about that exemption here.
The original petition was motivated by the fact that some 3D printer manufacturers were locking 3D printers to material that came from the 3D printer manufacturer. Owners and users of 3D printers that wanted to use third party material needed to circumvent the checks that the manufacturers put in place to lock the printers to the materials.
There was some ambiguity around the question of if circumventing these checks violated the same part of copyright law that makes it illegal to crack the DRM on DVDs. That same law - often referred to as “Section 1201″ - also allows the Copyright Office to grant three year exceptions to the rule if it seems appropriate to do so. The original petition asked the Copyright Office to declare that, to the extent that unlocking a 3D printer might incidentally violate Section 1201, it did not do so in a way that created the harm that Section 1201 was designed to prevent.
The Copyright Office granted the original exemption in 2015, although it managed to limit it in a number of nonsensical ways. Today’s filing deadline kicks of the next round of the three year process. It was the day that you had to petition to renew an exemption already in place.
So that’s what I did. In September you can petition for new exemptions or to expand current exemptions. I plan on doing that too. In 2015 the Copyright Office limited its exemption because it had concerns about things like airline and medical safety. These are legitimate things for one to worry about. But they are not things that the Copyright Office knows anything about and they have nothing to do with copyright. In September I plan to point this out to the Copyright Office and ask it to limit its consideration to the copyright impacts of the exemption. To the extent that the exemption creates problems with airline safety, medical safety, or anything else, there are plenty of agencies of the U.S. Government with the expertise to step in.
So keep your eyes here in September and throughout the process. I’ll try and keep this updated as it unfolds.