We had a chat with Matthew Griffiths, CTO of BuildBee about 3D model intellectual property.
If you haven’t heard of BuildBee, you might want to take a look at their online 3D print job management service. It’s able to store 3D models online and prepare print jobs for a wide array of different 3D printer models, including both FFF and resin equipment. The service includes features like livestreaming print jobs, print queuing, and 3D model repair. They call it an “all in one” 3D print service.
Currently BuildBee has over 75,000 participants, and as such they see a lot of 3D model traffic and situations involving those designs. I had a chat with the company’s CTO, Matthew Griffiths, to find out how they view 3D model intellectual property and what security approaches could be used.
Fabbaloo: Some readers might not understand how intellectual property applies to the world of 3D printing. What exactly is considered “IP” in this space?
Matthew Griffiths: Intellectual Property are things you own because they were created by your own mind. In the world of 3D printing this really means your 3D designs. Every new model you create is a digital property that you own. As such you have the rights to use and distribute it as you see fit. Generally all creative work (including 3D models) are protected by Copyright, meaning that if someone wants to copy and use your model or likeness of your model they need your permission. Most creators of 3D printable models opt for some sort of Creative Commons licence which may simply require the user of the model to attribute credit to the creator or could restrict a user from making money off the model or forbid changing or remixing the model. There are a lot of options for IP rights protection legally, but they are only useful if they are enforceable, that is if the creator has the will and the money to defend them.
Fabbaloo: What types of users would hold the most concerns about intellectual property in 3D printing?
Matthew Griffiths: The 3D printing community lives & dies on the backs of the wonderful creators who spend their time & effort creating amazing models for everyone to print. Traditionally these creators have shared their content with the community by sharing the 3D model files (STLs, OBJs, 3MFs ect) with the community.
More recently a thriving marketplace has emerged allowing these creators to monetize some of their designs. This has allowed creators to make a living designing for 3D printing. By ensuring that designing is a financially sustainable option for creators we ensure that quality content remains available for the entire community.
Under the traditional model sharing system, every time a model is shared or sold the creator is distributing the underlying 3D files that comprise their IP. The fact that designers are forced to release the files to consumers means that piracy becomes a distinct risk. This is a risk both to the audience growth and the financial security of the creators that make the 3D printing space great.
Fabbaloo: When preparing a 3D print job using a cloud service, what specific concerns do you hear from customers regarding the security of their intellectual property?
Matthew Griffiths: For independent designers, the main concerns are those of the inherent piracy risk attached to distributing digital content. The designers I talk to consistently bring up anxieties about their work being distributed by a third-party without their consent, control or attribution.
By far the most commonly cited concern seems to be attribution. Attribution is the key for growing an audience and building a sub-community. For those creators who make a living selling 3D models, intellectual property piracy becomes income theft as creators are left with no methods for monetization or conflict resolution.
At the enterprise & tertiary education levels there are concerns around using 3D printing to manufacture proprietary & experimental IP as this may involve sharing sensitive design files with a third party to manufacture. This is especially a concern for international collaborations where a legal agreement might not actually offer any meaningful protection.
Fabbaloo: Have there been legal cases related to IP concerns? What happens in such instances?
Matthew Griffiths: There have certainly been many instances of IP theft that have taken place in the 3D printing community, but there have been remarkably few cases of content creators protecting their IP successfully using the law.
There has always been a constant amount of low-scale piracy such as individuals sharing a model they purchased on social media or the rehosting of a model someone else designed without proper attribution. Largely these are ignored because the amount of time and effort required to police these low-scale piracies is just not worth it for independent creators.
On the other end of the scale we’ve had cases of large corporate entities stealing the intellectual property of independent designers and hosting it inside their platforms with no attribution or compensation. This includes a very recent, high profile case where one of the largest 3D printer manufacturers in the world hosted a large chunk of pirated content on their cloud platform. In cases like this an independent creator has very little hope of seeing any recompense due to the massive disparity in resources between the creator and company. Achieving any favourable resolution is especially difficult when companies are headquartered in regions with few IP protection laws or difficult enforceability.
This has left creators out in the cold with no viable options for protecting their livelihoods. On one hand the death-by-a-thousand-cuts of independent privacy. On the other hand large-scale corporate exploitation of independent creators.
We have found ourselves in an environment where the creators that make the 3D printing community great are being exploited by the community at large. I don’t think we can expect these creators to keep pouring their heart and soul into their work if we don’t make a change and give creators the tools to protect their IP and livelihood. I certainly think it’s unethical to expect them to continue accepting this exploitation.
Fabbaloo: How does BuildBee secure customer IP? What technical steps are taken, and how strong are the defenses?
Matthew Griffiths: BuildBee secures the IP of its customers by applying a paradigm shift to the traditional 3D printing process; removing the need to share 3D model files. BuildBee allows the distribution of 3D designs without ever exposing the underlying 3D model to the end-user. We ensure that once a model has been uploaded to BuildBee it never leaves the secure BuildBee Cloud.
Instead, we provide as many of the model transformation tools that an end user could need as possible (model splitting, model repair, scaling etc) and when a user wants to print a model it is sliced in the cloud and only the final G-Code is delivered to the end user. As GCODE is compatible with a specific printer & material, it is far less sensitive than the 3D model file, from an IP security perspective. BuildBee also has secure methods for connecting your 3D printer to the cloud such as the BuildBee CloudDock. This acts as a secure method for receiving GCODE from the cloud and communicating the print instructions to the 3D printer helping to secure the GCODE itself.
The BuildBee cloud itself is secured with tried & tested web security methodologies that are used every day to keep the entire internet secure. Using multiple layers of industry standard methodologies such as TLS and Encryption at Rest we make sure that all IP is kept secured whether it be in cloud storage or being sent to the BuildBee Cloud Slicer.
We also ensure that the uploaded IP is only ever stored in locations with strong and rigorous IP protection laws (such as the US, Australia, Ireland).
Fabbaloo: Do security threats change? How does BuildBee keep up with the latest security developments?
Matthew Griffiths: Security threats are always evolving and businesses that offer security products (such as VPNs and password managers) will spend hours throwing out buzzwords about the extremely advanced nature of their “cutting edge military encryption”, so I’ll try to avoid becoming a stereotype and give concrete examples.
The first strategy BuildBee uses to ensure that we are always meeting the challenge of an ever changing security landscape is to use security tools with a well respected and active community. Largely we achieve this by using a suite of security products provided and maintained by AWS and the AWS community. This means that we’re using the same tools as other products with a strong engineering & security reputation such as Amazon, Netflix and DataDome. Using security tools with a large customer-base means that issues are fixed swiftly and updated automatically.
BuildBee ensures the integrity and security of customer IP through its complete vertical integration of the BuildBee product. By providing one service that handles everything from model distribution all the way down to the software talking to your 3D printer we ensure that the latest secure principles are applied to every link in the manufacturing chain. The lack of a product with complete vertical integration is the only reason that the existing 3D printing community have been forced to distribute 3D models. By bringing a fresh approach to the game we hope that we can consistently bring forward new ways to help creators protect their IP.
Fabbaloo: Is BuildBee considering improving the security around customer intellectual property? What changes are planned for the future?
Matthew Griffiths: We’re always looking to increase the security of our customers’ IP and much like keeping warm, the key to a secure digital environment is layering. We’re always on the search for new ways to increase the depth and breadth of the secure BuildBee enclave.
An upcoming IP security feature that I am excited for in particular is a new method for securely partitioning and distributing the GCODE files that are delivered to 3D printers. This will help to reduce the scope of IP theft even further. It also has some very cool applications for the dynamic generation of GCODE during the printing process, but you’ll have to stay posted for more information on that.
At the end of the day my main goal is to ensure that the creators making all the fabulous content I use on a daily basis are given the IP protection they need. I know everyone in the BuildBee team got started because of the cool models we found in the community. Whether you are making D&D minis, RC planes, vases, low poly art, or anything else, we believe you should get the attribution & earnings that you deserve. Because of that shared team-wide perspective, security improvements are always a priority, and we are always excited to improve the protection we provide.