A Mainstreet Legal Perspective with Carter Law

As the widespread use of additive manufacturing (AM) grows, protection of intellectual property rights, especially copyrights and patents, will undoubtedly increase.

We asked attorney Corey Carter, Esq. of Carter Law for his opinions about intellectual property rights relevant to additive manufacturing in an exclusive AMazing® Q&A session.


AMazing®: Corey, thank you for your participation. It is an exciting time with the adoption and use of additive manufacturing technologies emerging at a very rapid pace. What are some of your early thoughts regarding additive manufacturing?

Corey Carter: Thank you. It is my pleasure to talk about this exciting area! I first became aware of additive manufacturing when a client walked into my office with a tiny plastic pill bottle. His excitement for the little white bottle was contagious, but I still didn’t understand what all the excitement was about. What was so special about this bottle was that the lid screwed on and off! I still didn’t get it, but his excitement spurred me on to learn more.

What I came to understand was that additive manufacturing decreases the cost of prototyping objects drastically. By reducing such costs, the barriers to entry into the innovative entrepreneurial world are decreased. Additionally, companies can create many more iterations of a product, perfecting it before it goes to market. This should result in better products being created and delivered to the consumer, and hopefully, another economic boom.

AMazing®: An economic boom would be terrific! As subset technologies of additive manufacturing like 3D Printing become more accessible and affordable to the general public; there is an increased risk of widespread patent infringement. What are some significant legal challenges associated with additive manufacturing?

Corey Carter: Interestingly enough, copyright violations are now possible in new and different ways with 3D printing. One man has developed a method by which he takes hundreds to thousands of photos to essentially scan then replicate a statue. (See 3D Printing a Masterwork here) By reproducing a protected work, the original artist’s copyrights are violated. By being able to so easily copy and reproduce a work, expect new copyright infringement lawsuits in this area.

AMazing®: The United States federal copyright law grants certain rights specific to authors and artists. How do these rights extend to 3D Printed designs and objects?

Corey Carter: Well, copyright is essentially a bundle of rights. One of those rights is the right to reproduce the work. Therefore, any unauthorized reproduction of the same work is a violation of copyright law. See the statue example above.

Another right is the right to make derivative works. A derivative work is a work that derives many of the same elements from an originally created work. So, if there was a distinct comic book character for example and a 3D printed model was made of the character, this would violate the copyright as a derivative work.

AMazing®: I have read that copyright does not always protect ‘useful’ things. To the point, if I take a picture of a useful object, scan it, and then 3D print it; I may not be breaking any law, any more than if I manufactured the object using conventional subtractive machining. Is this a fair observation?

Corey Carter: That is correct. Copyright is more about protecting unique art and expression and less about protecting practical applications. Items which exist for utility and not for expression are protected by patent law to the extent they are innovative and qualify for patent protection. So if you take an picture of a standard screw, then 3D print it, you are in the clear.

AMazing®: Along the same lines as federal copyright law, what types of patent rights are afforded to authors and artists of 3D Printed designs or objects?

Corey Carter: I would dare say that no patent rights are afforded to authors and artists, but rather patent rights are afforded to inventors and innovators. Authors and artists are generally creating only expressive artistic works, and not works of utility. Inventors on the other hand, are creating designs with some utility, one of the required elements needed to obtain a patent.

Patent law essentially grants a limited monopoly on the use of a specific item as a way to reward and encourage the inventor to spend time and money coming up with the new useful item. In the 3D printing context, the printer itself, the material or chemical compositions used in the manufacturing, the objects made, or the process the manufacturer uses may all be patentable. The downside to deciding to patent rather than keeping it secret is that you need to disclose the new technology in detail. This allows others to do what you did!  Now, the secret is out and you need to sue or threaten suit to stop competitors from piggybacking off of your hard work.

AMazing®: What should owners of 3D Printed designs and objects do to protect their hard work?

Corey Carter: Well, if they are creating a copyrightable work, they should file a copyright with the US copyright office. Ref. http://www.copyright.gov/. It is a pretty easy and affordable process. If patent law applies to what they are creating, then they should speak with a patent lawyer to weigh all their options and make a decision to either patent, or make concerted efforts to keep the technology confidential if possible.

AMazing®: What should consumers be aware of before additively manufacturing a part?

Corey Carter: They should know that just reproducing something that is protected by copyright or patent is a violation. If you print it in the privacy of your own home, who will know? Of course, that was the mindset of those copying music online in the 1990’s. Most importantly though, use common sense. Don’t print up a bunch of GI Joe figurines and then try to sell them on Ebay, as that is a sure fire way to get sued or criminally prosecuted.

AMazing®: Shifting gears to education, what career advice would you offer an individual interested in becoming an attorney that specializes in business law?

Corey Carter: Speak to a business attorney directly. If you work at a big company, talk to HR about getting an introduction to someone in the legal department of the company. Go up to the local courthouse and ask the clerk where contract disputes are heard. If you have the time and are interested in starting a business of some kind, do it!  Jumping in is probably the best way to learn. Of course, you still need to go to law school and pass the bar.

AMazing®: As use of additive manufacturing becomes more commonplace, do you believe the basic concepts of ownership and copyright will be challenged?

Corey Carter: The rules of the law are often changing and adapting to our brave new world.  But the basic concepts typically remain because they are based on our basic understanding of fairness and due process. However, when enforceability of those rights becomes an issue, businesses often change their business model. The advent of the internet has many examples of businesses changing their business model due to the ease and frequency by which copyright violations occur. Many artists now embrace sites like YouTube so they can make money from the views by selling advertisements.

Another interesting example is the recent decision by gettyimages® to provide many of their copyrighted works for free but with embedded links back to their website. They found that this provided more value to them than suing violators and incurring attorney’s fees. (See Getty million of images, here) Businesses will likely change their businesses tactics to adapt to the realities of the world in the additive manufacturing age in the same way successful businesses have with the advent of widespread use of the internet.

This concludes our interview. Thank you very much Corey for your participation. We are very grateful for the opportunity to gain greater insight into the legal realm surrounding additive manufacturing.


About Corey Carter:
Mr. Carter is a member of the Central District of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys Association (CDCBAA), California Lawyers for the Arts, and the Los Angeles County Bar Association. Mr. Carter was recognized for his Pro Bono participation in the United States Bankruptcy Court Central District of California 2011 Honor Roll of Pro Bono Volunteers. Mr. Carter is admitted to practice in all courts of the State of California, the United States District Court for the Central District of California, and the United States Tax Court.

About Carter Law
Carter Law represents business owners and their entities; including, contractors, manufacturers, importers, software and media companies, artists, and professionals in legal matters that affect their businesses or property interests. Carter Law has offices to serve your legal needs in Los Angeles, Orange County, and routinely represent clients in the counties of San Diego and Riverside.

Corey A. Carter, Esq. | CARTER LAW
1010 N. Central Avenue, Suite 204 Glendale, CA 91202
Fax: 323.450.2222

The content within this article is for information and not legal advice. We recommend that you consult with a licensed attorney as needed. Carter Law serves as legal counsel for Amazing AM, LLC.

Republication or redistribution of AMazing content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of AMazing. AMazing and its logo are registered trademarks.

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