And what if that object was an original creation by someone else? How do you credit the inventor? How does that person get paid for his or her innovation?
In a smart article in Ars Technica, Peter Hanna writes that three-dimensional printers threaten to complicate the enforcement of intellectual property law.
If you're unfamiliar with them, 3D printers use a digital file -- either a master design or a scan of an existing object -- to progressively deposit, much like an inkjet printer does in two dimensions, layers of material such as plastic or metal. Once the layers are complete, they are fused together, and the fabricated object is hardened.
That's right -- there's no carving necessary.
As you might suspect, a 3D printer threatens patents, copyrights and trademarks just as much as the two-dimensional printer threatened them on the printed page.
There's not much to argue about in terms of the actual IP owner. But what about enablers?
Like hosting digital music files, which are often studio-perfect copies of recorded audio or video, hosting 3D design files for the public to access could be a lawsuit-attracting proposition.
For now, 3D printers are far too expensive for the average person to bother with. But it's not far-fetched to imagine your young daughter one day printing out the not-yet-released Barbie she's been lusting over -- or for you to print out that Eero Saarinen chair you've always wanted -- for pennies on the dollar.
The next Napster? Copyright questions as 3D printing comes of age [Ars Technica]