Do You Really Own Your 3D Printer?

3D Printing & Imaging
Do You Really Own Your 3D Printer?
The DRM Chip From A Stratasys Print Cartridge
The DRM Chip From A Stratasys Print Cartridge

Our good friend Michael Weinberg has written us to let us all know about one of the current fights to keep 3D printing free and open. Read below and add your voice to the current issue.

The Time is Now to Help to Unlock 3D Printers

The Copyright Office needs to hear that people want to be able to use whatever materials they choose in their 3D printers. Click here to add your voice.

Want to know more?

For the past few months, the Copyright Office has been holding a process designed to decide if people can do all sorts of legitimate things like unlock cell phones, make fair uses of videos on DVD, and repair their cars and tractors without violating part of copyright law in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Objections to doing those things were released earlier this month, and replies to those objections are due May 1.

One request that is part of this process is a request to prevent copyright law from getting in the way of people using the materials of their choice in their 3D printers. The request is necessary because some 3D printer manufacturers use control technologies like verification chips and RFID tags to make sure that their printers can only work with materials that the manufacturers themselves sell. If you try and use “unapproved materials” in these printers — even if you own them — you could be sued for violating the DMCA.

The biggest objection to this request came from the 3D printing company Stratasys. Among other things, Stratasys dismisses the idea that anyone actually wants to use unapproved materials in their 3D printers, or that legal uncertainty would reduce the chances of someone feeling comfortable doing so:

“The only alleged evidence of any person experiencing uncertainty [around using unapproved materials in a 3D printer] consists of a single quote from a comment on a web forum . . . [a]t a minimum, this comment is merely conclusory or anecdotal evidence that is insufficient to meet the substantial adverse impact standard required by the statute.”

The coalition fighting for a right to access and repair digital objects needs your help to show that there is more than a single person on a web forum interested in using materials in 3D printers without permission. We need you to tell the Copyright Office that copyright law should not stand in the way of using whatever material you choose in a 3D printer.

Please click here to weigh in, and please spread the word!

Michael Weinberg is a 3D printing advocate and can be found at  He is a former Vice President of Public Knowledge and currently IP & General Counsel of Shapeways, but writes here in his personal capacity.

9 thoughts on “Do You Really Own Your 3D Printer?

  1. Chuck Stephens says:

    So what does Make alum Bre Pettis have to say about how his sugar daddy Stratasys is treating the community that made him a rich man? Very little, I’d wager. Oh right, don’t hate the player, hate the game.
    The solution here is to not buy from companies who abuse DRM. Participation is consent. If no one buys crippled products then the companies will change their tune really quick or die like the dinosaurs they are. Vote with your dollars- we have the power!

  2. Dorothy5463 says:


  3. footoed says:

    If you really are a maker, you would just make your own printer.

    1. Matt Electrolite Engstrom says:

      Being able to mod factory built ones is also pretty easy for makers to do as well!

    2. WildZBill says:

      It is fairly easy to build a printer that uses one color of one type of plastic at 300 microns. It is much more difficult to build a printer that prints in multiple colors and materials at the 20 micron level.
      Plus, if this law goes into effect, you would have to secretly create your own controller board and load it with illegal g-code handling software…

      1. Walter Anderson says:

        The difficulty in building is irrelevant. If you want it and you are unwilling to accept the terms of those who are selling it you have no choice but to build your own.

        A sale of any product is a mutual agreement. The seller offers THEIR product at terms they find acceptable. The buyer can try to negotiate, but if the seller refuses, the buyer has no rights to another’s property using terms the seller has not ALSO agreed to.

        Finally, telling people they are going to be prosecuted under the DMCA is ridiculous. Individuals who do this within their own home are essentially untouchable. It is only if you start selling or otherwise publishing your violations that you are susceptible to prosecution.

  4. Ed says:

    Is this not the same as with inkjet printers, if you use “non-genuine” ink you risk voiding your warranty?
    Hardly a “copyright” issue though, what a stupid law, glad I don’t live in the US.

  5. Walter Anderson says:

    If you don’t like the restrictions on a product you are about to purchase, then don’t purchase it. In particular with 3D printers there are plenty of other options that don’t use proprietary filament.

  6. John Carlton says:

    As far as I know Stratasys has printers in two kinds of markets. The business market where the printers cost 30k and Makerbot where Stratasys may have priced themselves out of the market at 2-3k. Makerbots do not use proprietary filament unless they’ve totally change the printers in the last six months and the business market is used to buying stuff in cartridges and doesn’t really care about anything other than a reorder number. Just like they do with copier toner and a bunch of other stuff. So making a big deal about cartridges that aren’t in your market is pointless. Stratasys is probably right in this case. If you are complaining about stuff on a 30k+ printer then you probably aren’t the right customer for Stratasys.

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Matt is a community organizer and founder of 3DPPVD, Ocean State Maker Mill, and HackPittsburgh. He is Make's digital fabrication and reviews editor.

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