3D Piracy The Next Frontier

January 26, 2012
2 mins read
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The Pirate Bay sees 3D printed goods as the next big thing for piracy, reports Witchdoctor’s new columnist, PAT PILCHER, who is fresh back from the CES fair.

WITH THE KIM Dotcom/Megaupload saga dominating tech media both here and offshore, awareness of piracy is at an all-time high. Add to this the SOPA saga, and the politics of the digital economy are gaining a huge amount of attention.
Like petrol poured onto a raging fire, The Pirate Bay (TPB) is hyping things up even further by talking up the next big thing in piracy. In a blog post The Pirate Bay sees items created by 3D printers as the next digital boundary to be toppled by piracy.
While the idea of 3D printed objects isn’t new, piracy of them is. If the idea of trading digital models for digital objects that can be created on a 3D printer seems unlikely, take a moment to consider this:
Not so long ago when a fast internet connection was a rare thing, and most of us were stuck with pokey dial-up internet, we laughed at the idea of downloading an entire TV series. A few years later, most of us are on multi-megabit broadband, and peer-to-peer technologies make downloading whole TV series, albums and movies easier than going through the grief of heading down to the store to buy the DVD. Funnily enough, big media is no longer laughing.
The crux of the Pirate bays thesis is the 3D printer. So how do they work? In a nutshell, a 3D printer is the business end of computer-aided design and manufacture, otherwise known as CAD-CAM. Budding designers, engineers and architects use a CAD package such at Autodesk to create digital 3D models onscreen that can then be fed it into a 3D printer which will literally create a solid 3D prototype of the design.
The significance of this is potentially huge. Early low- resolution inkjet printers were expensive and at best did an average job of document printing. Nowadays, they’re so affordable that many buy a new photo capable inkjet printer because it’s cheaper than buying replacement ink cartridges. Should 3D printer technologies develop at a similarly rapid pace, the potential for piracy (and its knock-on impacts on the wider business community) could be immense.
3D printers are already becoming increasingly commonplace. 3D printer manufacturer Makerbot showcased a sub US$2000 3D printer at CES that could print solid objects in two colours. The digital models required for Makerbot and other 3D printers to do their thing are not large and as such can be easily traded over peer-to-peer networks.
Putting all this together, an interesting scenario emerges: In the near future it might be possible that instead of heading to the mall to buy something, we might instead download a design we like online and have our 3D printer knock out a version. Online trade in files for 3D objects and the digital rights to be able to download and print them could be bigger than huge.
While the whole 3D model and 3D printing category is only really beginning to emerge now, the Pirate Bay has already set up a category for pirated 3D models in anticipation of their explosive growth. Looks like the three strikes law could get more interesting in the near future.

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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