3D printing: sorting out the legal issues

3D printing is transforming how products are made, but many legal issues such civil liability and intellectual property rights still need to be clarified.

3D printing: Parliament looking into new technology

Additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, is changing how products are designed, developed, manufactured, and distributed. By 2021, the 3D printing market could be worth €9.6 billion, according to a report by the European Commission.

Although it is creating opportunities for companies, it is also raising challenges, especially concerning civil liability and intellectual property rights. French EFDD member Joëlle Bergeron has written an own-initiative report with legislative and regulatory recommendations in the field of 3D printing.

Her report was adopted by MEPs on 3 July and will now be forwarded to the European Commission for consideration.

We talked to Bergeron following the vote by Parliament's legal affairs committee on 20 June about why legislation on this is needed.

Interview with Joelle Bergeron
Joëlle Bergeron

Who should be liable when a 3D printed product is found to be defective or unsafe?

The rules regarding civil liability, as defined by the e-commerce directive, apply. However, we should consider creating specific rules for 3D printing products.

As it is such a complex process and so many people are involved, it could be difficult for someone affected to identify the person responsible.

If there is an accident, the person responsible could potentially be the creator or vendor of the 3D file, the producer of the printer or the software, the supplier of the materials used or the person creating the object, depending on where the defect originated.

At the moment there are no legal precedents regarding civil liability for products that were created with 3D printing. So manufacturers don’t know what to expect.

Therefore it is up to us, who have been elected to the Parliament, to call on the European Commission to take a close look at these legal issues.

Clear rules on who owns the right to a 3D printed product should help to fight counterfeiting, but also to protect the work of designers and printers. How do you see the industry’s future?

Although 3D printing is becoming more popular, it is not at the moment creating any major issues regarding the infringement of intellectual property law. Most customers and online printing services are professionals, especially designers or high-tech services run by large industrial companies who use this technique to produce prototypes or limited series objects.

There are few people on 3D file exchange platforms who reproduce a work protected by intellectual property law. Works of art are most at risk of counterfeiting. However, there could by copyright issues once 3D printing is used on an industrial scale.

We should also be careful regarding issues such as encryption and file protection in order to prevent people illegally downloading or reproducing these files and copyrighted objects or duplicating illicit objects.

It is also important to develop a legal offer for 3D printing so that people can print an object without breaking the law, while the original developer will still receive what they are entitled to.

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