< Don't Screw It Up


Friday, December 27, 2013

BOB GARFIELD:  So, if 3D printing does revolutionize the way we think about production, maybe about ownership itself, it also will disrupt existing business models. And if history is any guide, those disrupted businesses will push for laws to keep our fingers off those buttons. Michael Weinberg is a vice president at Public Knowledge, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the openness of the internet. Michael, welcome to On the Media.

MICHAEL WEINBERG:  Thank you so much for having me.

BOB GARFIELD:  You wrote a piece called [LAUGHS] “It Will be Awesome if They Don’t Screw It Up.” Who’s they, what’s it, and how [LAUGHS] are they gonna screw it up?

MICHAEL WEINBERG:  There are potentially many “theys.” I think the most important “theys” are probably members of Congress. “It” is the potential of 3D printing to do some really impressive things. And screwing it up would be to diminish the usefulness of 3D printers and 3D printing, more generally.

BOB GARFIELD:  If I decide to make a 3D printer copy of a Frisbee or a medical device or an auto part, whatever, and those are patented products, what about the harm to the patent owner? How do you construct fair use, when you're talking about physical goods?

MICHAEL WEINBERG:  Well, one of the things about physical goods that is a huge difference from music and movies and articles and photos, not all physical goods are necessarily even protected by copyright. But when you have something that is protected by copyright, the same fair use rules apply. It’s a different context but it's the same kind of analysis.

BOB GARFIELD:  There have been various stabs at trying to find a solution, trying to accommodate innovation and also to protect intellectual property rights - digital rights management, willy-nilly lawsuits meant to intimidate infringers, and so on.

But, in the end, at least in the music business, the content creators ended up having to change their business model. In manufacturing, you make stuff and you sell it. How can anyone adapt to this new reality?

MICHAEL WEINBERG:  Maybe instead of having to manufacture that good and put it in a warehouse and ship it and distribute it, you give people a way to buy those goods online and download the files and make them yourself. Now, it’s certainly a different model, but in some ways it's a superior model because a lot of those costs are costs you don’t have to worry about anymore. It’s not necessarily an easy change, but it's not impossible to imagine.

BOB GARFIELD:  Now, this conversation is premised on the assumption [LAUGHS] that Congress and regulators, their first instinct will be to overreact. What do you tell them, by way of getting them to embrace the kinds of innovation that you're dreaming about?

MICHAEL WEINBERG:  Talk about all the advantages that 3D printing brings. And so, when that policymaker is faced with the choice to regulate 3D printing or to pass laws relative to 3D printing, there’s not just an assumption that this is a problem that we need to get under control but that getting something like 3D printing, quote, unquote, “under control” actually diminishes its usefulness and has a lot of costs.

BOB GARFIELD:  All right. Michael, thank you so much.


BOB GARFIELD:  Michael Weinberg is a vice president of Public Knowledge, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the openness of the internet.


Michael Weinberg

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