The Little Train That Could over Intellectual Property

I use too many Train analogies. That's because I'm old. A fact proven by the lengthy rants here on the SHACK about legal attacks on the very train-like Usenet. She may be old and rusty, but when it's time for the heavy lifting, Usenet gets the job done. My main point has always been how our society is faced with balancing Technological (R)evolution with governance and Intellectual Property (IP) Law. That train is moving ever faster, and many folks just want to hide their heads. Today's Commentary is less about Usenet and more about a Little Train that Could over the very concept of Intellectual Property, as we know it. That little train is 3D (or Additive) Printing.

Sometimes I question why I would wind-up about something so archaic as Usenet, but the answer is that Usenet is just today's IP legal target. Predictably, similar struggles will arise as "creators" are faced with losing ownership and profitability of the things they create. What happens when Technology enables everyone with the power to be a "Creator"? That's the endgame of 3D printing. Like Star Trek's "Replicator" 3D printing promises a future where even a juicy steak can be "printed" from protein "inks". See how I went right to the hype?

3D Printing is as old as Usenet!

The birth of 3D printing goes back to the 80's, and Corporate adoption of 3D printing is 15 years old. For those not been keeping up with the 3D Printing News, it has far exceeded the point where it is used only for making models, castings, and quirky Art pieces. Over the next decade it is easily predictable that 3D Printing will drive a revolution more powerful than the Personal Computer. Manufacturing will face Democratization as Consumer-affordable printers and available materials come to Market. It is also easily predictable that Intellectual Property may become an aged and dying concept like steam-powered locomotives. Usenet however, may become more powerful than ever.

3D Printing runs on 3D CAD design. Imagine a future where knowledge is not just power, but the very literal core of everything in your life. Now imagine everyone trying to retain IP rights to ground-breaking Additive Printing designs in a world dominated by them. Reality just became a file easily pirated file. It's no longer about a silly song or movie or audiobook. Even manufactured products commonly counterfeited, like designer purses? No one is going to care. The very concept of everyone competing to own overpriced products of a singular design is going away.

Now imagine that today you "created" a wild new sneaker design and posted it to Think how powerful an Open Source approach to this Brave New World would be. Now picture the opposite. We as a Race of Beings are going to have to relinquish the notion that other Free beings should be stripped of their freedom because they made something tangible from our AutoCAD thoughts. Enforcement will simply be unmanageable ...or we may all be in prison.

Flashback to the Future

I have previously related a story told to me, about how a male person was caught in a female person's college dorm room after hours, on a campus which at that time was gender segregated. This was a serious infraction! Dragged before council, this horny teenager was derided as a Man of Low Character and kicked out of University. The next year that college went coed. Rules we are told to follow as the strictest and most sacred of (beliefs) laws, can instantly turn to silly vapor. What? one year you are driven off Campus in shame and the next year you get a high-five and some Free Love? Seriously this was not me! ;-)

Never forget our legal system is structured for change. Even the U.S. Constitution has a process to make amendments. It is all on the basis that the future is radically unpredictable. Looking into the future, and the unimaginable possibilities of 3D printing, it's hard to picture how we can continue to clutch onto the dying idea of Intellectual Property. Like the notion you can keep a 19 year old boy from a 19 year old girl, those proponents of today's IP law? ...well there just won't be enough lawyers, or enough prisons, but you may be able to print your own condoms.

Was there one man or woman on that poor boy's college council who said to themselves, "..this is wrong! Next year I will work to change this rule, and make this campus coed!"? I mean something happened to drive that change. Well, it was the 60's, and there was a cultural revolution happening, but I am telling you it is now the Tweens and there is a new revolution on the horizon. Can we not see into a future where our current laws are obsolete, and take that foresight to today's council table? More importantly can we hide our heads as these Social decisions are being made for us? Think how these laws will look in a Communist China, where the government is the factory and the governance. When the debate arises about what kind of world you want to leave your children and grandchildren's going to be Free or Not. Any in-between will be worse, a world full of protected Creators.

Close your eyes for one minute and imagine what the world will be in 2022, when we can (and will!) all have our own little factory at home. Like my sneaker reference above, there will be so many things we will be able to make at home, or buy custom from 3D printing kiosks at the 3D Mall. What we refer to as Piracy today may be more common than bumping phones to swap a playlist ...and very likely have a much more positive nametag. There are only a few systems I can imagine could handle that load of data delivery. Usenet and torrents (distributed computing). Then again as the coal-fired locomotive got surpassed by the diesel, and by the mag lev monorail, our predictable future will clearly strain the very limits of Human imagination ...and Law.

"Soylent Green is Printed!" (calling dibbs!)


BoDark posted by BoDark
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