India: 3D Printing: Is Copyright Law Ready?

Last Updated: 9 August 2017
Article by Karan Agarwal

3D printing concept is the biggest and the most technological advance development made in the present century. Today, we cannot say that the 3D printing technology is new to us but its real life applicability is unimaginable with far reaching implication. Technology is best if regulated by law because it may be both a bane and a boon for the society.

3D printer's way of function is very much similar to an inkjet printer; the output in the 3D printer is a three dimensional object whereas in an inkjet printer it's printed on a paper (2D). The 3D printer uses a Computer Aided Design (CAD) file which is a digital model of the object which is to be 3D printed. This CAD filed can be made in two ways: firstly this CAD file can be created right from the scratch or; secondly, it can be taken from 3D Scan of a real life object.

Copyright protection

3D printer though can be protected easily under the umbrella of Patent Act, 1970 but the CAD files are the one in dispute and their protection can be done only under Copyright laws of India. A CAD file will generally be protected as a literary work, it being in the form of software (Section 14(a) and (b) of the Copyright Act, 1957). The CAD file can be considered as a relevant piece of evidence on the basis of which one can stop a copyright infringer from manufacturing a deceptively similar or same end product. In India till today there is no as such requirement for filing a copyright application to get a copyright in a work but its generally preferred to file for copyright to prove to the date of creation of that work when disputes arises over the ownership of work.

3D Printing-End product

So once, a CAD file protected under the copyright law is put in the 3D printer which itself is protected under patent law, it results in formation of a 3D object. The final object printed will further need to be protected as it was the brain child of someone. That object can be copyrighted as a design under the Design Act and the author for the same will be the author/creator of the CAD file used in creating the 3D Object.

Drawbacks

The major drawback, with respect to CAD files used in 3D printing is that one cannot protect the vital aspects of 3D printing with the help of copyright laws as they can protect the design from infringement but not its digital blue-prints that are generated via copying and then further, distributed in the market. The situation is similar like the rampant copyright infringement of movies digital print.

The things become scarier if a government agency makes a CAD file for a machine gun and that blueprint leaks in the market. Now anyone sitting in their home with a 3D printer can make a machine gun. It's not that we are not ready for 3D printing technology in India but the change brought in by 3D printing is voluminous. And to deal with it, our legal system can be better equipped. Intellectual property laws are fairly equipped to protect the right of the inventor/author in the technology for the time being but soon there will be many IP related issues cropping up and the legal fraternity should be prepared for it.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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