Tuesday 22 July 2014

Print-a-Pony: golden opportunity, or taking artwork for a ride?

Printed in 3D, they may never look the same again
With apologies for the cross-post, there follows the first part of a blogpost from Iona Silverman on the 1709 Blog, "My Little Pony Gets 3D Printed", here, which focuses on some of the copyright issues arising from a fascinating piece of commercial cooperation 
"3D printing is a bit of a buzzword at the moment and its not the first time that this blogger has written about protection of IP rights in the 3D printer world. Rightsholders need to be thinking about how best to exploit 3D printing rather than how to avoid it, and one company that has done just that is Hasbro. 

Rather than targeting creators of fan art to stop them customising the popular My Little Pony range (because, really trying to stop your fans from enjoying your product is not a great business proposition), Hasbro is going to partner with 3D printing company Shapeways to sell fan art.

Five artists will design My Little Pony figurines which can be printed to order. John Frascott, chief marketing officer at Hasbro, describes the process as "mass customisation" - the figurines don't make sense for mass manufacture but enough people will buy them that Hasbro can justify allowing the artists to create and sell them.

It's not clear whether the artists will be employed by Hasbro or whether they are merely granted permission to create fan art (likely the former, for Hasbro to retain control of any copyright created) but it is clear that this is a clear demonstration that we will see more and more customised goods in future, meaning more and more 3D printing. ..."
Iona then goes on to ask a number of copyright-related questions, as one might expect in a piece written for a copyright law blog, and readers can consider those issues at their leisure.  From the perspective of Art & Artifice, however, it would be good to get some reactions from artists and those who represent them as to what this ingenious use of a 3D-based business opportunity might make to them


Rachel said...

Very interesting thoughts, Jeremy and Iona. I see a lot of parallels between 3D printing and things like fan fiction. Indeed, for businesses savvy enough to harness public attention and enthusiasm, the opportunities might outweigh some of the legal concerns associated with such activities. Hasbro has found a clever middle ground by hiring artists and thus keeping some degree of control.

As an attorney who represents artists, what I find a bit troubling about these models (and more so with models where a lot of artists submit designs for a competition) is that to the extent that the artists are creating new IP that IP is (most likely through contract) forked over to the company. My Little Ponies present an interesting case because each design represents a unique character with a name and specific features already associated with it. Will these artists be designing whole new characters or just making variations on those that Hasbro already developed? I am concerned that if it is the former that this amounts to a lot of free IP for big companies, essentially using free labor to replace what their in house designers would be doing, but, at the same time it can be a good publicity opportunity for artists, not to mention a labor of love for some.

FVandenboom said...

I am doing artistic and legal research looking at these issues myself. Some examples can be found on www.thecopyriots.com.
I am trying to find the limits on copyright protection, transformation and infringement and use phoneys as an example to introduce my DRM tool !
In relation to fanmade material check out drupy. If your interested let me know, I love to discuss these issues more.