Copyright | 3D Printing Object

Fair Use | Super 8 Movie Prop

Intellectual property enforcement needs a sense of scale.

An engineer named Todd Blatt created a 3D digital model of a distinctive cube object from the movie Super 8.

Then he made the model available on the 3D printing site Shapeways so that fans could purchase copies of the cube, manufactured on a one-off basis.

Cease and Desist Letter?

Lawyers from the movie studio, Paramount Pictures, issued a cease and desist letter to Mr. Blatt, and he complied. The lawyers believed this odd-ball, one-by-one, relatively expensive method for reproducing the cube violated the studio’s copyright.

This was over-lawyering. The cease and desist letter did not serve the studio’s best interest. 3D printing is today a novelty. 3D printing is unlikely to reduce the studio’s ability to sell its own reproductions of the cube.

Mr. Blatt’s 3D reproduction comfortably fits within the "fair use" doctrine of copyright law, which allows small-scale copying.

Advice to the Studio

The studio comes off looking like an ogre when it sends this cease and desist letter.

The studio should be flattered that Mr. Blatt would go to the trouble to enable this unusual,
intriguing form of acclamation for the movie. The studio needs enthusiasts like Mr. Blatt. Instead of hitting him with a lawyer’s letter, the studio would be better advised to blog about him, tweet about him on Twitter and publish a video about his inspiring work.

In years to come, as 3D printing drops in cost, 3D reproduction of a movie prop could shrink the market for officially-licensed copies of a prop. But 3D printing is not there today.

Mr. Wright teaches the law of data security and investigations at the SANS Institute.

Update:  Mr. Blatt asked me to elaborate on why I think his 3D reproduction is fair use.  (Obviously, none of my public statements are legal advice to Mr. Blatt or anyone else.  I'm just stating ideas for public discussion.)

Let's look at the law.  17 USC Section 107:

"the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:
1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work."

My feeling is that Mr. Blatt's work is so limited and restrained that its impact and purpose are more like commentary, education or research than commerce.  His work is a wondrous novelty that praises the movie makers.  Due to the expense and awkwardness of 3D technology today, the movie makers themselves are very unlikely to try to make a 3D version of the cube in the way that Mr. Blatt did.

The purpose of the fair use doctrine is to enable the kind of cool, provocative exchange of ideas that Mr. Blatt's work exemplifies.

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