Can I print my own Lego blocks

3D printing: can you reprint Lego bricks and the like?

3D printers are often celebrated as the new industrial revolution. They are already being used for the quick and uncomplicated production of prototypes. In the future, 3D printers could find their way into many households for the reproduction of useful and decorative objects. But copying existing objects brings with it a new and well-known problem: Does it infringe copyright, trademark or patent rights?

3D printers for everyone

You don't necessarily have to spend a lot of money to produce objects with a 3D printer. The MakerBot Thing-O-Matic is not exactly cheap, but it is already available at an affordable price for private users of 1,299 US dollars. Those who do not want or have to run their own prototype laboratory at home can also access 3D printers via DIY workshops, which are now booming around the world. Such a machine is available in Vienna, for example, in the Happy Lab (see also Insite, part 9).

Designs from the web

Users can either design the 3D designs themselves using the appropriate software, or download them from the Internet. On Thingiverse everyone can upload their designs - from tools to jewelry to toys - and share them with other users. The question about the copyright is quite easy to answer here, because the designs are published under a Creative Commons license. For example, creators can insist that their designs cannot be used for commercial purposes. In that case, you would violate the license if you, for example, download a toy robot, print it several times and sell it.

Copyright question

But how does it work when, for example, an existing object is modeled and printed on the computer? Is it permissible to copy a vase or a coffee cup, which is sold at a well-known Swedish furniture store, or from Lego bricks? Attorney Michael Weinberg told the New York Times that the copyright only applies to aesthetic objects, but not to useful objects. After all, if you made a pot of clay yourself, you would not violate any rights.

Rights jungle

However, it is unclear where the line is drawn between useful and decorative objects, for example when it comes to a vase. On the other hand, useful objects can be protected by patent law or a utility model. Anyone who reads something into the subject will find themselves in a real jungle of rights, as the c't magazine reports in its November issue: "Copyright for a protectable work takes effect automatically and without any registration. It sees things differently the protection of patent and trademark rights as well as design and utility model law that a 3D printed product may infringe. This is subject to special requirements and, in particular, needs to be entered in special registers. "

Lego yes, model train no

So you can print out Lego bricks without hesitation, because the patent from 1988 on them has already expired and has not been renewed. The ICE of the Deutsche Bahn, on the other hand, is protected by a design and may not be reproduced in model form without approval and offered via Thingiverse, for example. For pure private use, without publishing the 3D model on the web, you won't have to worry about such things. However, if you want to sell your creations on or give them away to friends, you should inform yourself beforehand about any existing copyrights, patents and designs. (br /, November 14, 2011)