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On 5 December 2013, I attended a fascinating symposium on 3D Printing: Social and Cultural Trajectories held at Swinburne University. It brought together industry, military, business and academic perspectives on the emergence and popularisation of 3d printing as a technology, a practice and a cultural form.
My paper focused on the relationship (or lack thereof) between 3D printing and peer-to-peer distribution networks, with particularly interest in The Pirate Bay who attempted to strategically position themselves as a locus of 3D printable designs or, as they dubbed them, physibles.
Here’s the slides and abstract from my paper:
In January 2012, the (in)famous BitTorrent hub The Pirate Bay (TPB) launched a new section dubbed ‘Physibles’, featuring links to files containing various 3d printable designs. The blog post announcing the new section argued with revolutionary zeal that in an era where most media and data are “born digital”, the “next step in copying will be made from digital form into physical form. It will be physical objects … We believe that things like three dimensional printers, scanners and such are just the first step. We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare parts for your vehicles. You will download your sneakers within 20 years” (WinstonQ2038, 2012). Yet, despite The Pirate Bay’s seeming call to arms, eighteen months later the physibles section remains a tiny corner of the filesharing site, with less than 200 active files being shared, while Makerbot’s Thingiverse repository of 3d printable designs, or the print-and-sell service Shapeways, both show far more rapid growth. Moreover, a “3d Printing and Physibles” page on Facebook, launched shortly after TPB’s new section debuted, has over 39,000 likes and an active community. It is possible that the fact that TPB became the default source for 3d printable firearms designs after they were effectively banned from other repositories (Van Der Sar, 2013) has shaped the physible section; the top fifteen most seeded designed (ie shared by the most users) on TPB are either firearms of related accessories.
While the Thingiverse and other repositories have captured and held the attention of the Maker communities from which 3d printing emerged, this is beginning to change. In February 2013, HBO set and cease and desist letter, demanding that Fernando Sosa (and his company NuProto.com) stop selling a 3d printed iPhone charging dock created in the likeness of the distinctive Iron Throne from the HBO series Game of Thrones (Hurst, 2013). While the Iron Throne Dock is not the first legal battle over 3D printing (Thompson, 2012) it appears to have been one of the most high-profile battles (with the exception of the moral panic issue of 3d printing guns). Similarly, Shapeways, a popular online service selling bespoke 3d printed objects, despite only receiving 5 cease and desist letters in 2012, is proactively policing designs for those which may violate trademarks or copyright (Kharif & Decker, 2013). Where Shapeways draws the line, though, is hard to judge; a popular item on Shapeways at present is an iPhone 5 case modelled on the likeness of a Star Wars Stormtrooper.
In order to better understand the relationship between ‘piracy’ and certain aspects of 3d printing this paper will: (a) analyse the various media responses to launch of TPB’s physibles section; (b) examine the way that the physibles banner has been taken up elsewhere (for example, a “3d Printing and Physibles” Facebook page); (c) how TPB becoming the default source for 3d printable firearm designs shifted media reporting of physibles; and (d) how increasingly public cease and desist instructions from copyright holders may galvanise a more resistant ‘pirate’ movement in relation to 3d printing.
Hurst, N. (2013, February 13). HBO Blocks 3-D Printed Game of Thrones iPhone Dock. Wired. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/design/2013/02/got-hbo-cease-and-desist/
Kharif, O., & Decker, S. (2013, August 26). 3D-printed iPhone gear stirs Game of Thrones copyright clash. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/digital-life-news/3dprinted-iphone-gear-stirs-game-of-thrones-copyright-clash-20130823-2sgeq.html
Thompson, C. (2012, May 30). Clive Thompson on 3-D Printing’s Legal Morass. Wired. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/design/2012/05/3-d-printing-patent-law/
Van Der Sar, E. (2013, May 10). Pirate Bay Takes Over Distribution of Censored 3D Printable Gun. TorrentFreak. Retrieved September 13, 2013, from http://torrentfreak.com/pirate-bay-takes-over-distribution-of-censored-3d-printable-gun-130510/
WinstonQ2038. (2012, January 23). Evolution: New category. The Pirate Bay. Retrieved from http://thepiratebay.sx/blog/203
The symposium itself was a fascinating event, with so many exciting ideas tabled. A number of the presentations are available here, while Matthew Rimmer did an outstanding job documenting and capturing the day, which he’s made available as a Storify feed.
Links for August 29th through September 3rd:
- Navigating the new multi-screen world: Insights show how consumers use different devices together – Google Mobile Ads Blog – New report funded by Google: “The New Multi-screen World: Understanding Cross-Platform Consumer Behavior” "discovered that 90% of people move between devices to accomplish a goal, whether that’s on smartphones, PCs, tablets or TV. We set out to learn not just how much of our media consumption happens on screens, but also how we use these multiple devices together, and what that means for the way that businesses connect with consumers. In understanding what it means to multi-screen, we discovered two main modes of usage:
* Sequential screening where we move from one device to another to complete a single goal
* Simultaneous screening where we use multiple devices at the same time
We found that nine out of ten people use multiple screens sequentially and that smartphones are by far the most common starting point for sequential activity." [Full Report PDF]
- UKNova made to halt television and radio torrent links [BBC News] – "UKNova has stopped offering BitTorrent links after becoming the latest file-sharing site to be targeted by copyright defenders. Its administrators said they took the action after receiving a demand from the Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact). UKNova had pitched itself as a free catch-up TV and radio service and had asked its members not to add material available for sale elsewhere. It has been in operation since 2003. UKNova's use of BitTorrent links meant it did not keep any pirated material on its own servers, but rather provided the means for its members to download and upload material to and from each others' computers. […] Unlike many other file-sharing sites, UKNova did not run adverts on its pages. One of its administrators said it was not run for profit, had survived purely from voluntary donations and nobody involved had been paid."
- Apple kills Star Trek [YouTube] – Clever re-dub of classic Star Trek: The Next Generation footage in the aftermath of Apple's patent lawsuits. Things don't go well for the Enterprise!
- Are Apple’s innovations inside us now? [CNN.com] – Douglas Rushkoff: "Imagine that we were just developing spoken language for the first time. And someone came up with a new word to describe an action, thought or feeling — like "magnify" or "dreadful." But in this strange world, the person who came up with the word demanded that anyone else who used it pay him a dollar every time the word was uttered. That would make it pretty difficult for us to negotiate our way to a society that communicated through speech. That's the way the patent wars on smartphone and tablet advances are beginning to feel to me. […] Usually, advancements of this sort are developed through consortia of companies. The HTML standards through which the Web is rendered are not owned by a single company, but developed together and used by everyone. Imagine if one musical instrument company owned the patent on the piano keyboard, and another on the tuning of a violin. Or what if every typewriter company had to develop its own layout of letters?"
Links for March 16th through March 22nd:
- The Hunger Games Game [CollegeHumor Video] – A parody video from College Humor, turning The Hunger Games into a tween-girl fantasy boardgame focusing on the love-triangle, to great comic effect. On some level, though, this is also a pretty decent critique of the way a film which and certain elements of the fandom around it miss the core critique of authority and a media culture, reducing it to a vapid romance tale.
- Dragon Tattoo Has Unique DVD Design – Sony’s DVD release of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has confused some people because it’s designed to look like a ripped copy and, sporting letters which look like they’re written in felt-tip pen on a DVD-R. Confusing messages you’re sending there, Sony!
- Twitter turns six [Twitter Blog] – On the sixth anniversary of Twitter’s launch, the service has reached 140 million users, with 340 million tweets made daily. That said, since most active users seem to tweet a lot more than 3 times a day, a significant proportion of users don’t actually seem to tweet much.
- Game sales surpassed video in UK, says report [BBC News] – “Sales of computer games in the UK have surpassed those of videos for the first time, new figures suggest. The Electronic Retailers Association (ERA) said sales of £1.93bn in 2011 made the gaming industry the country’s biggest entertainment sector. By contrast, sales of DVDs and other video formats totalled £1.80bn, while music pulled in £1.07bn.”
- Will The Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up (feat. Eminem) – YouTube – Clever political mashup video in search of the ‘real’ Mitt Romney featuring Romney and Obama in the style of Eninem’s Slim Shady.
- Rob Reid: The $8 billion iPod | Video on TED.com – Fantastic TED parody explanation of the logic behind copyright lawsuits and litigation: copyright maths. From TED: “Comic author Rob Reid unveils Copyright Math (TM), a remarkable new field of study based on actual numbers from entertainment industry lawyers and lobbyists. Rob Reid is a humor author and the founder of the company that created the music subscription service Rhapsody”