United States: Op-Ed: To Avoid A Flood Of Do-It-Yourself Counterfeits, Fashion Brands Must Offer 3D Printable Designs

Last Updated: September 16 2013
Article by Rose Auslander

Fashion must learn from the music industry's failure to react quickly to changes in technology and make do-it-yourself, 3D-printable designs easily accessible to consumers in order to avoid a coming flood of infringement and, instead, benefit from the rise of 3D printing, argues Rose Auslander, a partner in the Intellectual Property department of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, a Wall Street law firm.

NEW YORK, United States — As the prices of 3D printers continue to drop, savvy consumers are already making their own do-it-yourself counterfeits at home. In a video posted at 3dprinter.net, one even takes off the sunglasses he is wearing and shows how to make a 3D copy in a few easy steps. Indeed, consumers may soon be copying sunglasses and jewellery from fashion designers from Armani to Yves Saint Laurent. It would be wonderful to think that 3D printers will only increase creativity as consumers design their own printable fashion items, but if New York's Canal Street (an infamous market for counterfeits) is a guide, once 3D printing is readily available, hordes of consumers will want copies of prestige items. So far, fashion has continued to thrive while industries like music and books have taken a beating from the Internet. Now, fashion needs to take a lesson from the failure of those industries to react quickly to changes in technology.

Designers who want to lead fashion into the future need to get ready for the world of 3D printing now. The public already is fascinated with 3D printers. At the CES consumer electronics show in January of this year, crowds surrounded every booth owned by a 3D printer manufacturer and the CUBEX 3D printer won CNet's Best of Show award for Emerging Tech. While 3D printers are not yet in most homes, some say they will be the PC of this decade — that as soon they become affordable, they will be everywhere, growing ever more sophisticated. Today, home 3D printers are available at Staples for $1,299.99, and smaller companies already offer cheaper options, such as the Assembled Printrbot Simple, available for $399, and unassembled kits for as low as $200. Nor is the technology know-how needed to use these printers out of reach. High school students are starting to learn 3D modeling.

It isn't even necessary to buy a 3D printer. Consumers can pay 3D printing services to copy items for them. Even now, consumers can go online and design their own eyeglasses and jewellery, which online companies then 3D print for them. Even 3D printing services that want to be legitimate may find it difficult to screen requests for infringing designs.

3D printing services have already faced infringement claims. Just this past February, HBO sent the 3D printing service nuPROTO a letter warning it to "cease and desist from continuing to produce and offer for sale the 'Iron Throne Dock,'" a 3D manufactured iPod dock inspired by HBO's Game of Thrones Fantasy TV series, and claiming that the Iron Throne Dock "will infringe on HBO's copyright in the Iron Throne." It has been reported that the offending Iron Throne Dock is no longer for sale, although a picture of it still appears at nuproto.com, along with this testimonial: "'...nuPROTO has created the iThrone, a dock perfect for HBO's Game of Thrones fans,' – Jill Pantozzi, www.themarysue.com."

Fashion designs often are not protected by copyrights or design patents, but like HBO, where designers can track counterfeiting of their copyright, patent, or trademark rights, they can send cease and desist letters (and, under U.S. law, send Digital Millennium Copyright Act , or DMCA, takedown notices for postings that infringe copyrights). They can also sue, if necessary. If these tactics are used against individuals or small companies, however, they can alienate consumers, as shown by the declining popularity of the Recording Institute of America (RIAA) after the organisation sent DMCA takedown notices and suing individuals for "sharing music" over the Internet.

Fashion designers saw the fallout when record labels responded to a new technology by insisting on continuing to sell $20 CD's in brick-and-mortar stores and trying to sue Internet copying out of existence. Designers know that by the time iTunes was established, the music industry was losing billions of dollars due to rampant peer-to-peer file sharing. And smart designers aren't waiting to be scooped by 3D counterfeits — they are already positioning themselves to benefit from 3D printing.

Asher Levine, known for his designs for Lady Gaga, Black Eyed Peas and Bruno Mars, teamed up with 3D printer MakerBot to create print-at-home sunglasses. These designs, promoted by being printed for models during Levine's runway show, were then readily available from MakerBot at thingiverse.com. This is a prototype of one way designers and 3D manufacturers can work together to democratise the creation of fashion for mutual benefit. As iTunes has shown, if consumers have access to easily accessible, reasonably priced goods, they are much less likely to go through the time and trouble needed to infringe.

Other innovative designers are using the expanded creativity enabled by 3D printing to design effects complex enough not only to be potentially protectable under copyright and design patent, but also very difficult to copy. For example, Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen's highly-futuristic designs feature sculptural ruffles and scales that fully exploit the new medium, as does Joshua DeMonte's 3D-printed bracelet shaped like a building, shown as part of the "40 Under 40 Craft Futures" display at the Renwick Gallery, in Washington, D.C.

To further ward off fashion-design infringement by online 3D printing services, designers also can pressure online 3D printing services to offer the kinds of rights-owner protection devices eBay provides, or the kind of claim-your-content program provided by YouTube — or to take the approach of the designers at suuz.com, who have posted a gallery of their own 3D-printing jewellery designs which consumers can then personalise, an approach that limits the potential for copyright and design patent infringement.

Of course, when designers face damaging piracy by willful counterfeiters, they may have no choice but to go to court seeking swift injunctive relief, as they have always done, although given the portability of 3D printers, it may be harder than ever to track down the sources. But if designers embrace the do-it-yourself ethic and provide innovative 3D designs easily accessible to consumers, they should be able to avoid a flood of consumer and small company infringement — and, instead, benefit from 3D printing.

Rose Auslander is a partner in the Intellectual Property Department of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP and a member of the firm's Fashion Law group. This discussion reflects the realities of US law.

This article was published in the August 29, 2013 issue of The Business of Fashion.

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.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.