Waiving moral rights – 3D Printing

The CC licensed f-f-fiddle is available for purchase now, although I’m afraid it’s full sized.


I.

The world is fucked. It’s no secret. We wake up, go to twitter and watch the latest videos of children being slaughtered and mutilated on the gaza strip, eat breakfast, and if we’re lucky go to work at some company conning people into giving more of their personal information to marketers. I see the best minds of my generation writing spam filters, or figuring out how to get a fraction of a percent more ad clicks.

And the worst part? There’s nothing you can really do about it.

It’s captured value vs created value, built into the very nature of our hyper-capitalist system. We’re in a zero sum game, it doesn’t matter if we all do better overall, just that we do better then everyone else.

You can choose to push yourself up by pushing everyone else down, or you can get pushed down. Try to bring everyone up, give your advancements away for free, and you get fucked over.

II.

No one exemplifies that attitude more then makerbot industries.

Modern 3D printing, the cheap kind that you could go out and buy, is nothing new. It’s existed for almost 30 years. But makerbot’s parent company had a very profitable line of 3D printers using SLS, a competing design that has higher accuracy but requires expensive lasers and dust chambers. So society had to wait for their patents to expire before we could put a 3D printer in every school.

Sure, makerbot started their life with those ideals. Trying to make the world better. Like Zach Hoeken (A co-founder at makerbot) said in his article “MakerBot vs. Open Source – A Founder Perspective

For me, personally, I look at a move to closed source as the ultimate betrayal. When I was forced out, it was a normal, if unfortunate, clash of wills where one person must stay and one person must go. I swallowed my ego and left, because I knew that the company I founded would carry my ideals further into the world. Regardless of our differences, I had assumed that Bre would continue to follow the principles that we founded the company on, and the same principles that played a major part in the success of our company. Moving from an open model to a closed model is contrary to everything that I stand for, and as a co-founder of MakerBot Industries, it makes me ashamed to have my name associated with it.

These days it’s obvious they don’t stand for those ideals. They don’t care about creating value, only about capturing it. Which would be fine, if 3D printing didn’t matter. But there are real effects to keeping the technology in their high-priced ivory tower. Take a look at the e-NABLE project. Providing very low cost prosthetics to people all over the world.

You can’t reliably ship things in rural Africa. Let alone something as expensive as a customized prosthetic. But if there’s a 3D printer near your village, suddenly you have a manufacturing base to lean on. You community can get life-saving and life-improving devices. From prosthetics to pump-components. Suddenly it’s not an issue of finding a supplier and getting it shipped, a daunting task even in the first world where we have working god-damn roads and a postal service.

III.

But hell, I’ll even say that trying to make high-cost unreliable 3D printers the norm isn’t that bad. Sure, they can artificially increase their market power a whole bunch, by putting all their competitors out of business by subsidizing printer costs, to just suing their competitors, to giving free printers to schools with contracts so the schools limit themselves to only teaching makerbot technology.

But it’s all just stuff, and it’s not like the cheap open source 3D printers are going away any time soon. They can’t completly destroy them, and the people and communities who really need cheap open source printers will still be able to get them.

No, what really pisses me off, the real problem here, is how they attempt to cripple innovation. 3D printing has existed for a long time, but makerbot’s parent company held patents on a bunch of technology that could make 3D printing cheaper. It wasn’t until a few years ago that those patents expired and we were able to create cheap 3D printers again.

3D printing is in it’s infancy, but it’s could be the start of something big if we let it. Right now it’s mostly used for silly things, toys, chotskies, and 3D printer parts. Plus the occasional world changing project like e-NABLE. But if patents and coporate greed don’t get in the way, there’s so much more it could be. 3D printing enables people to prototype physical objects faster, any project humanity does that relies on fiddly little plastic bits will go just a bit faster. We’ll expand 3D printing into more materials, maybe creating an affordable metal printer (once those patents expire), or cheap and reliable ceramic printing. What happens if 3D printers get even cheaper? If they reach that magic sub-hundred-dollar point? If they get more reliable, with better surfaces finished? Could we replace specialized factories with a warehouse full of printers, letting us retool our production faster? How will faster production turnaround times affect the economy?

3D printing is overhyped, it’s not going to solve all the worlds problems. It’s only one tool. But it has taken us a long way, and it’s a force multiplier for for designing and testing new ideas and new concepts. It makes the rest of our endeavers just a little bit better.

IV.

Yeah, starting a makerbot essay with a comment about the gaza strip is probably bad, they’re not comparable. I’m just pissed off at how bad things still are, and the makerbot thing is something that I might be able to comprehend and figure out how to deal with.

V.

It’s fucked. So what can we do? The first thing is to just care about the problems. Sometimes I wish there was a big list of problems I could care about, but there just aren’t enough hours even with adrafinil.

I could harp on about open source, global warming, or any number of other first world technology problems. The reason I’m focusing on 3D printing right now is because it is still an emerging industry, and our votes matter more. People always say to vote with your wallet, and right now your vote counts for more.

The easiest thing to do is to by from respectable companies that actually care about making the world a better place. Lulzbot makes damn reliable machines, much more reliable then makerbot machines in my experience. They have some great educational discounts as well. I hear that a lot people have trouble convincing the people in charge of making purchasing decisions to go with lulzbot. Because of the name. If that happens to you, email lulzbot at sales@lulzbot.com and tell them to change their god damned name already.

For personal printers, the printrbot line is reliable and low cost. If you’re looking for something in-between go with a solidoodle.

VI.

It also matters where you put your creations. If your an artist, or a mechanical designer, or just a hobbyist building a few knick-knacks, don’t upload your stuff to thingiverse. Makerbot owns thingiverse, and they’ve done some pretty awful things. They’ve got an extensive EULA you need to agree to in order to create an account. Said EULA involves things like “waiving your moral rights” over your creations. They have a very misleading plain text section next to the EULA which does it’s best to frame all their clauses as reasonable things, but it’s not hard for them to slip conotations through in their legalese.

They’ve also patented community designs before.

I can’t recomend a good alternative. youMagine is probably the best right now, but there’s nothing stopping them from selling out to another ancient monster of a corporation. They are a lot better about intelectual property issues. Now anyway. 3D printing is an emerging industry, and a lot of people want a slice of the pie.

There’s also cubehero, but it’s mediocre at best and only really usable if you already regularily use GIT.

I’m working on one myself, but it’s not good nearly good enough to unseat thingiverse. Maybe eventually. I’ve probably put in a good two years of work on it.

If you just want to browse objects, you can use yeggi. It’s an object search engine, aggregating all of these 3D printing services into one convenient location.

VII.

Most importantly, you can care about creating value and not just capturing it. It’s a tricky distinction, but once you see it you just keep on seeing it.

Take a look at preventative medicine. Going to a doctor before you get really sick and need really expensive treatments is a no-brainer from an economics stand point. You don’t want your doctors to be wasting their time dealing with health issues that could have easily been prevented if people had of just gotten tested earlier. Also you’re a lot less likely to die if you catch these kind of problem early.

But that’s not what the economy is insentivising right now. Doctors are espensive and so are tests. It might be less expensive if everyone got regular checkups and went to the doctor as soon as something was wrong. But it probably wouldn’t be less expensive for you personally, because sometimes you just need to put stuff off until you’ve made a mortage payment, and a lot of the time it isn’t a big issue anyway. And that’s why people put these things off. Because at a personal level, when you account for your finances and the odds are low that you’re going to end up being the one costing the health care system a lot of money. Well it makes sense not to spend that money now.

Undoutably the health care system creates more value and uses less resources if it can catch things early. But it needs resources to keep functioning, and it has to get them somewhere. It needs to capture value.

Compare that to a capitalist society that’s tempered with a bit of socialism. When the health care system doesn’t have to focus on how it’s going to pay for an MRI machine, suddely it can start focusing on catching things early and creating value without worrying about who’s going to pay. Suddenly everyone can go to the doctor for a cough that probably is just a cough. And when it isn’t, we don’t have to spend nearly as much money and effort to treat it. Because we caught it early.

Being able to focus on just creating value without worrying about where your next meal is going to come from is a powerful thing. It’s why we have student loans, and it’s why a lot of countries have free education. Because education creates value across an entire society, value that the educational institutes can’t capture for themselves to pay their day to day operating expenses.

There are a ton of business models that follow that patten, but most of them aren’t so necessary that the government has to step in.

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One Response to Waiving moral rights – 3D Printing

  1. alexis alan says:

    You do have a point that 3d printers are sometimes exaggerated and maybe they have not made the best printers for the money. But it seems like it will help the world and a lot of industries. Now even people can get there own printers and yes the technology is old it was one of the first types of 3d printers but it used to cost tons of money as it was not mass produced. Now with mass production people can get the printers for a lot cheaper. In any case there are a lot of advantages that 3d printers give us when it comes to prototyping or designing.

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