This was totally inevitable. Earlier this week a new object posted to Thingiverse was widely discussed. It was a great object - apparently able to visually simulate an impossible object: The Penrose Triangle, except in reality. And the design succeeds, at least when viewed from the correct angle.
But then the fun started. Ulrich Schwanitz issued a DMCA takedown notice to Thingiverse, claiming that this item was in fact infringing on his own design currently on sale at Shapeways (for USD$ 69.95 or €51.09 in alumide.) Thingiverse immediately took down the offending thing and much discussion ensued on Boing Boing, i.Materialise and other blogs.
What does this mean? We realize this is perhaps the first such incident - in the 3D object space - but infringements happen constantly in other areas. This was inevitable, and in this specific case, probably correctly.
We suspect the open atmosphere of Thingiverse can sometimes be taken a tad too far by its users. It's not a free-for-all storage service like those used to pirate movies and music; it's a place for True open source objects, with all the open source legalities standing behind them. When you post an object on that site, you'd better own it and be prepared for the consequences of open source use by others. Most users have this understanding, but Thingiverse might consider some gentle reminders to reduce the possibility of similar events in the future. They've just posted recommendations for use of creative commons licensing.
We're glad this happened. It is still early on, with plenty of time for Thingiverse users to learn to stop, think and check before they post. This particular item fortunately didn't have a huge chain of derivatives that might also have been taken down, transforming hours of people's efforts into nil.
But for us the bottom line is quite simple: 3D objects are now a serious matter. The 3D object space is now a legitimate business concern.
[UPDATE] Today maker Ulrich Schwanitz relented and decided to release his design into the public domain. Full discussion and details are available at the Shapeways Blog. While this event has apparently concluded, the issue of object design ownership remains. This won't be the last time we see this story.