In August I filed a petition with the US Copyright Office asking to renew the current rule that allows owners of 3D printers to use whatever filament or material they want in their printers. This petition, which is part of the Copyright Office’s triennial 1201 rulemaking process, was aimed at renewing the exemption granted three years ago. Today I filed a new petition asking the Copyright Office to go further and expand its existing petition so it makes sense.
The renewal petition was important because it is probably better to have the exemption than to not have it. However, as I wrote at the time, the current exemption is a total mess. Specifically, while it grants printer users the right to use their own material in their printers, it limits that right in cases where the printer in question “produces goods or materials for use in commerce the physical production of which is subject to legal or regulatory oversight or a related certification process, or where the circumvention is otherwise unlawful.”
Briefly, this is nonsensical because 1) many printers produce goods for personal use and for “use in commerce” (however we’re going to define that) so making a legal distinction between the two can be extremely challenging, and 2) every item used in commerce is subject to legal or regulatory oversight, so what does that additional qualifier even mean? For the record, while we disagreed about the wisdom of granting the exemption at all, Stratasys and I agreed that adding this type of qualifier was a bad idea because it made no sense.
That’s where today’s petition comes in. It asks the Copyright Office to grant a new exemption that is identical to the current one except without the nonsensical limitation. Why ask for a renewal for the current exemption and then ask for a new exemption that is just an expansion of the current petition? Because that’s how the Copyright Office told people to do it. And it does make sense on some level. If they reject this request to expand the exemption, at least we all have the renewal to fall back on.
What happens now? Today (and by “today” I mean that it could be filed today and published in the reasonably near future) we get to find out if anyone is opposing the vanilla renewal petition. If no one opposes it, it should be reasonably easy to have it renewed. (Update 9/29/17: It appears that no one opposed the original petition. In theory that means it will be automatically renewed. We’ll see how this plays out once the Copyright Office releases information about next steps.)
Regardless, at some point the Copyright Office will bundle all of the requests together and ask to public to comment on them. The Notice asking for petitions didn’t include a timeline for that, so we’ll just have to wait and see. When you start seeing stories about efforts to ask you to weigh in on using videos in classrooms and jailbreaking phones, you might pause for a moment to consider the fate of 3D printers as well.