Prop Wars: Can Paramount Prevent People From Offering Up Plans To 3D Print Movie Props?

from the freedom-to-build dept

It wasn't difficult to predict that this was coming. Late last year, we noted that it was only a matter of time until certain industries started to freak out about 3D printing, and how it would allow people to print physical items that others would claim "infringed" on original works. And, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that it's the entertainment industry that is the first to freak out. We had already noted that Gene Roddenberry's son was claiming that anyone who did a 3D printing of a Star Trek prop was infringing his rights (kinda ironic, given the nature of the Replicator device in the Star Trek universe...).

However, Paramount Pictures, a subsidiary of Viacom, has taken this even further. The studio apparently sent a cease-and-desist to Todd Blatt, a mechanical engineer, who has been making 3D printable models of various movie props, sending them off to the popular 3D printing service Shapeways, and offering up the products. In this case, Paramount freaked out that he was offering a 3D printed version of the weird cube-like figure in the movie Super 8.
Blatt, not wanting to get into a legal fight, took down the offered object... but the whole thing is raising questions as to whether or not Paramount has a legitimate legal claim here. As Eriq Gardner notes, this is like the Mike Tyson tattoo/Warner Bros. case in reverse.
Obviously, the creator of such a product might run into trouble depending on how the technology is packaged. "Bring home a character from Transformers" might imply a false endorsement. "Look like Angelina Jolie" might constitute a violation of the actress' publicity rights. But copyright? Is a physical re-creation of an object on-screen a derivative?
It definitely seems like a stretch, but if the entertainment industry is good at anything these days, it's stretching the meaning of copyright laws. While nothing more is likely to happen in this case, you can rest assured that this issue isn't going away, and there will almost certainly be court cases in the near future.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 12:35pm

    Copyright

    Is that object copyrighted? I know the movie is, but that doesn't instantly given them a copyright on all objects inside the move.

     

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      ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 12:45pm

      Re: Copyright

      Oddly, since it's non-functional it has copyright protection (as sculpture.) If it was a *functional* device, it'd have to be patented, and would enjoy much less protection.

      Now if they *trademarked* it...

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 12:53pm

      Re: Copyright

      If something within a movie otherwise constitutes an original work of authorship within the scope of US law, then, yes, it is entitled to protection under the law.

       

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      STJ, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 1:06pm

      Re: Copyright

      Well, what movie should be able to copyright clothes. We might have to shed them and go around naked.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 12:38pm

    [Spoiler Alert!]

    "Can Paramount Prevent People From Offering Up Plans To 3D Print Movie Props?"

    Can Paramount Prevent People From Offering Up Movies For Downloading Over The Internet?

     

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      Greevar (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 12:47pm

      Re: [Spoiler Alert!]

      Um, I'm going to say no. They've just given an unspoken challenge to the public to prove to them how much control they really have over their so-called "IP". They are going to find out the hard way, it doesn't pay to bully your fans.

       

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    Huph, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 12:45pm

    From Todd Blatt, the engineer behind the replica:

    “It’s purely just a fan creation and only one exists, which I ordered for myself before receiving the C&D letter,” Blatt explains. “There is a company called Quantum Mechanix (QMx) which will be selling licensed replicas soon, and if you’re a fan you should order one from them.”


    It doesn't surprise me that the studio would put a stop to this if they've already negotiated a (presumably) exclusive license with a manufacturer.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 12:48pm

    gene rodenberry's son... the fact that copyright is hereditary should scare you more.

     

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      Greevar (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 12:53pm

      Re:

      Man, I'm glad I went to the toilet before I read that.

       

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      Joe, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 1:25pm

      Re:

      Not only is it hereditary, If the original owner... say Gene Rodenberry sold the exclusive rights of said ip to you for example, upon his death, the family can sue you to get those rights back and most likely will win. At least that is how it was when I took an IP law class in college about 10 years ago.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 3:19pm

        Re: Re:

        That's not quite right.

        There is a provision that, 35 years after the transfer of a copyright, or his heirs I think, can get the copyright back.

        The time frame doesn't have anything to do with the death of the original author, except that if the author is dead, it's not him/her but his/her heirs that can bet it back.

         

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    Jay (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 12:55pm

    What did they pay for?

    So here's a few questions:

    What did Paramount pay for that this 3D printer doesn't already have?

    The schematics for the Printer are freely available on the internet.

    The plastic mold was bought by the hobbyist to be shaped into a new form.

    And I'm fairly positive Paramount didn't pay for the $500-%1000 3D printer.

    So they have no case.

    So why is it that people can be harried for a copyright issue when all this really is, is a reallocation of scarce goods, NOT BOUGHT by Paramount?

     

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      G Thompson (profile), Jul 1st, 2011 @ 12:56am

      Re: What did they pay for?

      So why is it that people can be harried for a copyright issue when all this really is, is a reallocation of scarce goods, NOT BOUGHT by Paramount?

      This is because most people have no understanding, let alone inclination to know, what is and what isn't lawful under IP Legislations. Also Organisations like Paramount et.al have a vested interest in keeping this apathy alive by misinformation, duress, fear and other social engineering factors.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 12:55pm

    Name of 3D Printing Machine is ?

    I saw a 3D printing machine on John Stewart or Steven Colbert, can't remember right now. Anyone else see this and know what it is called?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 1:01pm

      Re: Name of 3D Printing Machine is ?

      It was robably a MakerBot found here: http://www.makerbot.com/
      I myself have a reprap that I made for under 500$ and then printed out one more reprap using it for a friend for 200$

       

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        milrtime83 (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 1:03pm

        Re: Re: Name of 3D Printing Machine is ?

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 1:03pm

        Re: Re: Name of 3D Printing Machine is ?

        *probably

        stupid touchscreen

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 1:22pm

          Re: Re: Re: Name of 3D Printing Machine is ?

          Thanks. I like "robably." Kind of like a freudian type? I'm sure Paramount would see it as robbing them, even though it is not.

           

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        el_segfaulto (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 4:06pm

        Re: Re: Name of 3D Printing Machine is ?

        Quick question. I've been toying with the idea of building a reprap type machine and was wondering how hard it was. I did my BS in computer science but only had one course in EE and that was 10 years ago. Too much soldering or electrical tinkering would be out of my range.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 4:56pm

          Re: Re: Re: Name of 3D Printing Machine is ?

          It depends really, from your skill level to how much money you want to spend. If you have some spare cash, all the electronics and most of the parts come ready made in kit form from different suppliers depending on where you live. All you would need to do is put them together. Or you could just order an already assembled printer

          For building, it can take some time depending on your skill level and the printer you choose to make. There are several variations already, from wooden ones to classic Darwin mods. I work full time, so working on the machine for an hour every day and over the weekends took me a few months. But mostly do to waiting for the suppliers I used all the way from Norway to deliver my parts.
          The soldering was easy school grade stuff for most of it, for me at least.

           

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            el_segfaulto (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 7:31pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Name of 3D Printing Machine is ?

            Much appreciated! I've started putting together an inventory of parts and am looking forward to the challenge. My tune may change once I've destroyed a few parts, but until then I'm happy. Thanks again!

             

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      Matt N, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 1:25pm

      Re: Name of 3D Printing Machine is ?

      Makerbot

       

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    6 (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 1:05pm

    Protecting the design of physical objects is the domain of design patents. Not copyright.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 1:08pm

      Re:

      How so? The replica is just a model. I could whittle a block of wood to look like a BMW. I could even go crazy and model moveable parts. It still wouldn't violate patent law.

       

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      ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 1:10pm

      Re:

      "Protecting the design of physical objects is the domain of design patents. Not copyright."

      Tell that to the next sculptor you meet.

       

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        dwg, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 2:22pm

        Re: Re:

        Right: 6 is wrong. At least half wrong. Design patents protect the non-functional appearance of functional objects--that is, if part of the appearance of a functional object does NOT affect its performance (the fins on a Cadillac) then it may qualify for design patent protection. If the object in question is non-functional, like, say, a sculpture, then it gets copyright protection. Seems like this prop, without much more information, is non-functional and therefore gets a copyright...if it gets anything.

         

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          btr1701 (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 3:09pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          > Seems like this prop, without much more
          > information, is non-functional

          Well, if you've seen the movie, you'd know it pretty much has to be non-functional, because it's functionality is light-years beyond the current state of human technology. ;-)

           

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 3:21pm

      Re:

      That's not really true. Copyright protects, e.g., sculptures.

       

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    Jon B. (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 1:18pm

    I guess I missed the previous thing about Gene Roddenberry's son. As a big fan of ST:TNG, that made me giggle uncontrollably.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 1:20pm

    Um, can't domino sugar send a cease and desist to paramount for replicating a sugar cube? Don't they sell boxes full of sculptures and don't care if people use their sculptures how they please?

     

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    Mr. LemurBoy (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 1:22pm

    I'm just waiting to watch the shitstorm that happens when 3D printers become cheap common household items and people start downloading plans for physical items from P2P networks.

     

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    tebee (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 1:25pm

    Hey! here's a version under a PD licence

    Someone has already loaded a public domain licensed version to the Thingverse that anyone can download. I wonder f they'll try and take that one down too.

    http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:9744

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 1:50pm

    The answer is simple, yet you do not see. As George Lucas knew, there is BIG money to be made in toys and collectables. It's about protecting your intellectual property. Mikey thinks everything should be free, with no respect or regard to the rights of the owner & creator.

     

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      Jay (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 2:24pm

      Re:

      Read Here

       

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      dwg, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 2:25pm

      Re:

      "It's about protecting your intellectual property," he says, right after saying "there is BIG money to be made."

      Goes to show: whenever someone says "it's not about the money," it's about the money.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 2:47pm

      Re:

      I'm pretty sure the creator is the printing machine. Don't see how you can remotely consider a physical object created by anything other than the hand/tool/machine that builds it.

      At best, you could call Lucas the designer...except I highly doubt he was the one who created the design.

       

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    Hugh Mann (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 2:33pm

    Sure, 3D objects can be copyrighted...

    ... we usually call them "sculptures". If I free a statue formerly trapped in a block of stone, then some industrious chap comes along and makes plaster knockoff to sell for lame landscapers to put in suburban front yards, that's copyright infringement.

    Not sure why using a 3D printer, rather than a plaster mold, would be any different, and not sure why it makes a difference that the object is a movie prop (assuming it otherwise meets the criteria for copyright protection), rather than a half-naked chick with no arms.

    HM

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 3:22pm

    "We had already noted that Gene Roddenberry's son was claiming that anyone who did a 3D printing of a Star Trek prop was infringing his rights (kinda ironic, given the nature of the Replicator device in the Star Trek universe...)."

    Gee Mike, I thought you already knew that every time something was replicated, a fee was automatically paid to the copyright holder. That's the way that everything is going, so Gene was far ahead of his time to call that one. I mean, someone had to "create" the design for that pork chop.

    (For those who can't afford a sarcasm detection device, because DH's license fees are so damn steep, the above statement was, in fact, only sarcasm.

    Oh and by "create", I mean the laborious work of flopping an actual pork chop into a molecular scanner. Obviously the distinctive flavor of that particular pork chop is a true work of art that should be protected forever by perpetual copyright.)

     

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    Nicedoggy, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 3:27pm

    Things are gonna be fun from now on.

     

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    Jesse (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 4:38pm

    Replicators = Terrorism (or something else that's bad)

    Imagine if we did have the means to make a true replicator (and hence end world hunger). Think of how many people would fight in favour of preserving inequity. (Look no further than the pharmaceutical companies if you don't believe that they would.)

     

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    Vincent Clement (profile), Jul 1st, 2011 @ 5:13am

    Instead of freaking out and sending a C&D, why couldn't Paramount work with the guy instead? The old-school media companies could do themselves a great service if they stepped backed, cooled off and collaborated with people.

     

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    Overcast (profile), Jul 1st, 2011 @ 7:19am

    Why would they even care?

    Why do they go to war with their customers?

     

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