Protecting the Values of Consumer Law in the Digital Economy: The Case of 3D-Printing

in A. De Franceschi and R. Schulze (eds.), Digital Revolution - Challenges for Law. (Beck, 2019)

33 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2018 Last revised: 10 Jan 2020

See all articles by Geraint Howells

Geraint Howells

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Christian Twigg-Flesner

University of Warwick - School of Law

Chris Willett

University of Essex - School of Law

Date Written: October 29, 2018

Abstract

The law on consumer goods is currently underpinned to a significant degree by the need ethic (prioritising protection of consumers as vulnerable parties, over business self-interest and consumer self-reliance ). This is manifest in strict and quasi-strict liability standards. Notwithstanding 3D-printing innovations, there is a good case for adherence to the need ethic: The risks (of poor quality and unsafe goods) are as high as before (or higher); consumers are as vulnerable (or more so) than before; and there is insufficient evidence that the need ethic undermines innovation. We will argue in this paper that, despite the innovative aspects of 3D-printing, the law can often continue to reflect the need ethic via existing legal principles (current strict and quasi strict liability standards), subject to some extensions (e.g. as to supplier and producer liability for digital content), and through clarifications of existing legal rules and principles (e.g. as to who counts as a professional business supplier). However, to ensure that the need ethic is respected fully in all aspects of this technology, the law may need to go beyond these clarifications and modest extensions. For example, the increasing difficulty of locating the source of a quality or safety problem and the impact this has on a consumer’s ability to discharge the burden of proof, increase the need to impose some ‘network’ liability, involving re-allocation of responsibilities to traders (e.g. internet platforms) who would not be responsible under traditional legal regimes.

This analysis is significant in providing specific doctrinal solutions for an important and emerging sector of the consumer economy. More generally, it provides a new theoretical framework for analysing how consumer law should deal with the challenges of innovation.

Keywords: Consumer Law, 3D printing, additive layer manufacturing, values, technology, digital economy

JEL Classification: K12

Suggested Citation

Howells, Geraint and Twigg-Flesner, Christian and Willett, Chris, Protecting the Values of Consumer Law in the Digital Economy: The Case of 3D-Printing (October 29, 2018). in A. De Franceschi and R. Schulze (eds.), Digital Revolution - Challenges for Law. (Beck, 2019), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3283181

Geraint Howells

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Christian Twigg-Flesner (Contact Author)

University of Warwick - School of Law ( email )

Gibbet Hill Road
Coventry CV4 7AL, CV4 7AL
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://https://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/people/Christian_Twigg-Flesner

Chris Willett

University of Essex - School of Law ( email )

Colchester, Essex CO43SQ
United Kingdom

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