The future is here.
The monumental change that 3D printing will create may sound like an exaggeration, but we will surely remember the time without it as we now remember the time without the Internet wondering how we ever managed without it.
Think of the implications. You will be able to build all sort of things based on designs that can be downloaded from the Internet. You will also be able to make designs yourself from anything using scanners. The printers and materials are still expensive, but costs are dropping all the time, and it is possible that as they become more prevalent they will continue to decrease. With reduced price tag what is possible to be built is simply a matter of the scale of the printer. This video may give you an idea of the potential (or this other one of building a bicycle).
At the moment the legal issues are seemingly clear, but with some interesting open questions as this article in SCRIPTed shows. 3D printing will make design right more relevant than it is now. Also, the downloadable digital instructions are protected by copyright, and subject to licensing. Thingverse, one of the largest repositories of digital plans, requires uploaders to choose a licence for the other users. It reads:
“When you upload User Content to the Site or Services, you will be asked to select a secondary copyright license, which is additional to the license you grant to Company and its affiliates and partners in Section 3.2. This license will govern how other Site or Services users may use your User Content. You can designate this license to be one of the Creative Commons Licenses (see http://www.creativecommons.org) listed in the pull-down menu on the Site. You agree that Company may make your User Content available to other Site or Services users, subject to such other Site or Services users abiding by the terms of this secondary license; however, if you select the “All Rights Reserved” secondary copyright license, you agree that it means Company may display your User Content for public viewing on the Site and other Site or Services users must contact you to obtain additional rights, as necessary.”
This is a clear indication that uploaders can either choose a CC licence for their designs, or to choose all rights reserved, similar to what happens in other user-generated sites like Flickr. The result is a plethora of designs that can be downloaded by anyone in the world and turned into actual things by anyone with the printer and materials. Anything.
My concern is that at some point regulators will try to put some sort of tap on the technology, as things made by printers begin to make their way into the mainstream. One of the things that I believe may prompt action is the reproduction of unauthorised car parts. However, unless there is a full ban, this is too big to stop.
Whatever happens, we are in for a monumental change.