3D Printing and US Copyright Law

17 Pages Posted: 27 Oct 2016

See all articles by Peter S. Menell

Peter S. Menell

UC Berkeley School of Law

Ryan G. Vacca

University of New Hampshire School of Law

Date Written: October 26, 2016


This article explores how 3D printing fits within US copyright law. US copyright law provides a well-developed general framework for the protection of creative designs, whether fixed in CAD files or 3D objects. Enforcement of copyright protection in this industry faces some of the same challenges encountered by other content industries whose works were disrupted by the digital revolution. Nonetheless, 3D printing brings distinctive issues. Although grounded in statute, US copyright law has a rich common law tradition that affords courts significant leeway in adapting doctrines to new and unforeseen technological developments. This capacity is reinforced by the range of business strategies available for confronting appropriability challenges. Thus, this article surveys the 3D printing terrain on three levels: (I) copyrightability of CAD files and 3D objects; (II) enforcement challenges; and (III) business strategies. The ultimate governance regime will depend upon the business strategies that copyright owners and disruptive businesses pursue, the extent to which courts adapt copyright doctrines to new and unforeseen challenges, and the Copyright Office’s exemptions under the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions.

Keywords: 3D Printing, Copyright

JEL Classification: K19, K29, K39

Suggested Citation

Menell, Peter S. and Vacca, Ryan G., 3D Printing and US Copyright Law (October 26, 2016). UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 2859737, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2859737 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2859737

Peter S. Menell (Contact Author)

UC Berkeley School of Law ( email )

2240 Bancroft Way
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

Ryan G. Vacca

University of New Hampshire School of Law ( email )

Two White Street
Concord, NH 03301
United States
603.513.5291 (Phone)

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