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Will 3D Printing be the Evolution of Piracy?


A good friend recently showed me the below crazy YouTube video about 3D Printing. It's a straight-forward enough concept, and one that, as the video mentions, has been around for some time: if you print enough layers, your 2D printout will become 3D. You can print shapes, objects, and, an infinite number of useful things. Whatever you think of, you can print. Whatever anyone can think of can be sent to your printer.

There is no way of looking at 3D printing without being struck by just how big of a revolution it's going to be when it takes off. And though one of the video interviewees suggests that she cannot really envision a 3D printer in every home, I am not at all hesitant in saying the opposite: every home will have one, and everything you want will be printable, maybe even food.



Of course, the music industry professional in me sees a pretty obvious analogy here, one that follows the logic of "once something is digital, it's sharable." The rhetoric in the video, too, seems pretty similar to the rhetoric used about music copying: "Walls that existed before...are gone"... now "everyone has access." And so in a 3D-printer-filled world, it seems not unplausible that everything from earrings to dresses, and even highrise buildings and organs, would be, to use today's parlance, downloadable.

The implications of this idea cannot be contained in these short rants. But one wonders whether the "music should be free" argument applies across the 3D printer analogy. On the one hand, it would mean the democratisation of goods, which, when you think of printing apples for starving children, is pretty amazing. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine that even the most music pro-piracy advocate would be pro-everything-piracy. Or would they? In the future, 3D printing might mean that the whole concept of the "store" goes obsolete, and, with it (maybe) the whole concept of "money". Maybe, maybe not. But the thought in the back of my mind has always been "why can't I just steal this dress from H&M if intellectual property should be in the public domain?" -- is the only thing that separates "can pirate" from "cannot pirate" whether the end product is digitisable?