MakerBot Reacts To Thingiverse Controversy

By on February 24th, 2016 in blog

Today MakerBot issued a statement regarding their position on the ridiculous actions by 3D print service company Just 3D Print. 

The scandal revolves around Just 3D Print’s use of publicly downloadable 3D models stored on Thingiverse’s massive repository. Evidently Just 3D Print has chosen to provide, for a fee, physical 3D prints to customers based on apparently thousands of Thingiverse 3D models. As of this writing, they seem to have 2,225 items for sale on their eBay store. While I haven’t checked all of them (and who would), it seems clear that many are from Thingiverse. 

What’s the issue? It’s simply that the designers who originally created the 3D models uploaded them to Thingiverse based on the licensing options available to them from Thingiverse. When uploading, one can select a variety of licenses, each of which make very clear how the digital 3D model may be used. 

Typically, Thingiverse contributors choose Creative Commons licensing options that specify “non commercial use” and “attribution to creator”. This style of licensing enables casual users to do things with the 3D model, especially if they are for non-profit uses. Many designers use this approach to bring awareness of their talents to the world through Thingiverse. 

However, it appears that Just 3D Print has simply appropriated the 3D models and is offering to print them for a fee. Here’s an example:

Thingiverse contributor MacGyver produced a remixed version of a human skull, uploaded it to Thingiverse and selected the CC Attribution license. Looks like a pretty good 3D model!

Just 3D Print is offering what appears to be the same 3D model (and in fact uses the identical images!) of MacGyver’s entry. At no point in Just 3D Print’s eBay entry does it indicate attribution to MacGyver, who, would likely have refused permission to do so, or at least demanded a cut of the huge USD$208 fee being charged by Just 3D Print for this item.

See the images at top for comparison.

Even worse, the item description explains: 

This product is a one-of-a-kind 3D printed custom creation!

Really? What about all the other copies that can be (and have been) 3D printed from MacGyver’s 3D model? 

I’ll spare you the arguments being made by Just 3D Print, because the case is very clear to this organization: the CC license terms are being ignored. 

Industry watchers have wondered whether MakerBot, the operators of Thingiverse, have anything to say about this. Indeed they do, having released this text today: 

Several members of the Thingiverse community have recently raised concerns about an eBay member who is selling 3D prints of design files from Thingiverse. In many cases, the restrictions or obligations placed on those files by Thingiverse users are being completely disregarded. While we are still investigating the exact circumstances, we want to emphasize that MakerBot views violations of our community members’ rights with the utmost seriousness. We firmly oppose this kind of use of our community’s talented creations. To put it simply, we see such violations as a direct attack on the very goal of Thingiverse and the Creative Commons (CC) framework. Because there has been some misinformation being disseminated as part of the discussion, we wanted to take this opportunity to clarify how Thingiverse works and the rights that you as Thingiverse users have when using our platform.

MakerBot has created Thingiverse as a platform where users can share Things they create and we allow them to do so under certain terms of their choice. When Thingiverse users upload Things to Thingiverse, they choose the license under which they make their designs available, which can include CC licenses. The CC licenses are very clear on whether they allow commercial use or require attribution. MakerBot finds attribution to be a vital element of the CC licenses and simply put, a bedrock principle of respect. We want the world to know who is responsible for the wonderful creations that can be found on Thingiverse. We respect the choices our users make and we expect others to do so as well.    

MakerBot is committed to protecting the rights of its community members. In the case of the eBay seller mentioned above, our legal team is preparing communication to the appropriate parties. Since MakerBot does not own the content that our users upload to Thingiverse, we also encourage community members who recognize third party conduct that violates their CC licenses to contact the platforms that are harboring such behavior. We are happy to answer any questions that we can at this time and provide assistance. Community members can get in touch with our Thingiverse community manager here

If you’re interested in learning more about this discussion, Michael Weinberg has a very detailed overview on his blog.

We would like to thank the Thingiverse community for raising this issue and for their passionate response. Thingiverse can only thrive through the engagement and passion of our users. We need to protect the values and rights that make Thingiverse great!

Yes, that’s pretty clear too. I agree completely with this position. 

This style of use for uploaded 3D models simply removes any motivation for designers to use Thingiverse – or for that matter ANY public 3D model repository. That’s unworkable, and that’s why licenses exist and should be followed. 

Unfortunately, content theft is the bane of designers and artists worldwide. I have personal artist friends who have had their work appropriated and sold for money by others frequently, with little recourse for the artist. In fact, it’s often very challenging for an artist to even detect that such a thing is happening.

That said, it is also highly likely that similar operations making unfair use of CC-licensed 3D models are in existence around the world. I have often encountered new 3D model repositories that appear to include content from Thingiverse and other popular repositories, and sometimes they charge fees for download. But few have gone as far as to maximize the profit by literally printing them, as Just 3D Print has done. 

Sure, it’s hard to make a living these days, but don’t do it by ripping off designers. They are the reason 3D printing exists; let’s keep them healthy. 

Via MakerBot

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!