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Wednesday, 27 July 2016 19:26

Melbourne University issues consumer guide, warns of 3D printing ‘risks’

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A University of Melbourne team has launched a new guide — 3D Printing Rights & Responsibilities outlining for consumers what they need to know before printing in 3D, including the potential risks in creating and sharing 3D printable files.

The team, from the university’s School of Culture and Communications, has also published information on the kinds of safeguards that are in place for avoiding the risks associated with 3D printing, and designed and launched a website  ‘Everything you need to get started in 3D printing’ in response to what they say are the growing number of users keen to find, share, and create 3D printed goods online.

Project leaders Dr Luke Heemsbergen and Dr Robbie Fordyce say they were keen to offer consumers a range of easy to understand guides and information to help safeguard their work and take advantage of this emerging technology.

“The free resources are the result of extensive multidisciplinary research in Australia, and beyond, that identified emerging issues and trends within the consumer 3D printing space such as who owns the designs you share, the ones you modify and how they can be used by others,” Dr Heemsbergen says, with Dr Fordyce commenting that “interviews with experts and industry leaders, and complex modelling of the sharing patterns of objects online also raised a number of new issues for consumers".

The pair say that focus groups have shown that despite 3D printing becoming increasingly popular, consumers still have some gaps in their know-how, and that it is important that consumers make effective use, and “can call upon their rights and take account of their responsibilities as they design, share and print 3D files”.

“Quality of 3D printing files found online, the long term social impact of the proliferation of 3D printed objects and the legal protections relevant to the sharing and using of 3D printable files are all issues that Australian consumers will have to face in the near future.

“3D printing is a social practice that is built on a specific set of technologies, how people 3D print, what they print, and how society understands and decides this becomes a social and political concern,” Dr Heemsbergen said.

“Worrying about copyright and other intellectual property rights is necessary, but not sufficient – there are ethical, cultural and social aspects of what we make that tell us who we are as a society.”

According to the two team leaders, the Internet decentralises control of media — whether digital or, with 3D printing, physical and Australians are working towards understanding their rights and their risks regarding such processes.

“We are used to viewing things anything and everything out in cyberspace, but when that barrier breaks down, and the digital is made physical in your own home, people have new concerns," Dr Fordyce said.

“Our scorecard at 3DPrintingInfo.org offers simple advice and information on the extent that various popular 3D printing websites protect consumers who want to start 3D printing.”

The university’s project builds on initial research undertaken by Melbourne Networked Society Institute on domestic 3D printing and was funded by the Australian Consumer Communications Action Network (ACCAN) grants project.


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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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