This article explores how 3D printing fits within US copyright law. US copyright law provides a well-developed general framework for the protection of creative designs, whether fixed in CAD files or 3D objects. Enforcement of copyright protection in this industry faces some of the same challenges encountered by other content industries whose works were disrupted by the digital revolution. Nonetheless, 3D printing brings distinctive issues. Although grounded in statute, US copyright law has a rich common law tradition that affords courts significant leeway in adapting doctrines to new and unforeseen technological developments. This capacity is reinforced by the range of business strategies available for confronting appropriability challenges. Thus, this article surveys the 3D printing terrain on three levels: (I) copyrightability of CAD files and 3D objects; (II) enforcement challenges; and (III) business strategies. The ultimate governance regime will depend upon the business strategies that copyright owners and disruptive businesses pursue, the extent to which courts adapt copyright doctrines to new and unforeseen challenges, and the Copyright Office’s exemptions under the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions.

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Book Chapter


preprint - copyright - Ryan G. Vacca.

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This is a preprint version.