Brown Pirate Flag thin
Edward Teach braved scurvy, English cannon and the hangman's noose to find glory on the high seas. Better known as Blackbeard he sailed the West Indies and craggy Carolina coastline in search of booty while defying the laws of the day. To be on that ship, a rag tag bunch tied together in rope against an empire.
Surrounded by the wood, the water, wind and rope. Always everywhere all four, always everywhere rope. The prickling tickle of loose fibres against your hands, the chafing burn of a strong pull, the thud of it on deck, its groaning creaking hesitant transmutation into steel when tightened. Laying loosely coiled, a cobra. Reminding you that with one mistake it will strike, chafe, burn and tickle, turn into steel around your neck.
The fierce independent streak and disdain for the law persists long after the piercing sulphur, metal and barbecue smoke blade that is the smell of gunpowder has wafted away. All we are left with are legends, exaggerated quarter-truths retold, a game of Chinese whispers continuing for hundreds of years.
In the future what legends will they tell of us? Or will we disappear from view, our collective existence here at this time not meriting even a footnote in the most detailed histories of our age? We are not adventurers but we are plotting a course, a course for ourselves that will influence the lives of many. A choice for ourselves that will have ramifications for a future that may not even remember us. Are we pirates, privateers or shipyards?
Now when we think of pirates we think first of college kids uploading the latest Hollywood blockbusters. Do we side with them? If we are pirates we can help usher in an era of unbridled creativity. We can free art, design and technology from its legal bounds. Everyone will be able to design and remix whatever they want.
Creativity will be boundless and spread instantly across the globe. We will work together on improving all of the world's things. By letting the world's best minds, unbridled, improve product design and technology even small incremental steps will make lives better for many. By improving some 3D printed products and making them better fit their uses we will encourage all things to improve.
The ability to design and remix will spread, pulling many into the 3D printing fold. By staying steadfast on this course we will encourage the maximum amount of global inter-connectivity to unleash the best in product development. Unrestricted we will make the future. Given enough eyeballs, all things are shallow.
On the downside, is there a business model in here anywhere for anyone? Since it is easier to alter something than to make it from scratch won't many obscure the origins of designs by making many iterations? If we can’t even find nor thank the original designers how can they make money, even indirectly? This pirate universe would not be like today's movie piracy.
Today it is clear that Tom uploaded James Cameron's Titanic. But with 3D printed designs, who will be able to tell? Where does one thing start and the other begin? If no one can make any money in designing things how will the deep dives and truly original take place? Can amateurs really make everything? Or will the very best and most involved turn away from design leaving us to wallow in mediocrity? Can a million monkeys really write Shakespeare? Or will there just be a million useless works without any one of them being truly great?
Yes, Reddit can find, aggregate and rank good content from across the web. But, if the original creator is not rewarded won't this system be inherently unfair? We can’t recognise, celebrate or reward individual creativity and effort without attribution. Do we really want to build the future on the backs of those who can’t benefit from their creations? Fashion has no copyright and works just fine. But, this is because curators such as editors and readers of magazines recognize and reward those that bring originality. How could we do the same for all creation?
There are many fine and excellent jokes being created and spread, as they have been throughout the ages. They don't have a business model beyond the first few laughs. Can design work like jokes do? If we take this position won't the lawyers come after us? Won't we be seen as devices for piracy? Ten million in legal fees will find a way to bite you. Won't designers and engineers turn away from 3D printing if we are seen to encourage piracy? Will we even get off the ground if we don't encourage business models and nurture designers? It’s all fine and dandy that information wants to be free, but my mortgage, I assure you, also wants to be free.
Privateers were pirates that were given a license to pirate the other guy's ships. Probably the most successful example is Sir Francis Drake who became a hero by capturing millions in treasure from the Spanish. This is another option open to us. By working with large content firms and enshrining their copyrights and designs we could engage them and make sure that the best content was available to 3D print. We could come up with mechanisms by which designers could spread and earn from their designs while getting attribution for them. By encouraging them to make money from designs we would monetise the entire process and ensure that our ecosystem grows. This would motivate designers to attach a business model to their participation but at the same time we must be sanguine in regards to this approach.
It will under this DRM regime not be possible to pirate Disney or Maarten Baas since their designs would be too well known either to the public or the systems. But, what of the small independent designers slaving away in obscurity? What would protect them? Our current IP laws and systems are based upon looking at designs to judge how unique they are when compared to others. IP law is expensive and unable to be used by small players. Court cases are also too slow to adjudicate in matters whereby a design could be taken and remixed in several jurisdictions within minutes.
Could we ever really come up with a working system to protect true originality? So much would be created, so much would be too close to call. By the time the courts or the system would judge something to infringe or not, it would have been printed out all over the world. The object's fame and profitability fungible, its 15 megabytes of fame elapsed. Do we by choosing the path of the privateer reduce the world's design freedom and return some money to large corporates while making those too small to have a fleet of lawyers unable to collect? And if this is the case will not more and more of the world's shapes belong to corporations over time? By giving corporates a business model and all others none, won't we ultimately end up at a place where they own all the shapes? Can we really make art in a world where only one company is allowed to draw mice?
Or do we not arrange for anything at all with regards to IP? We are simply shipbuilders making a tool. A ship we make can be used for piracy or it may be used to evacuate refugees, it is not our responsibility but that of the owner and user of the vessel. And vessel is a great term here because aren't we just vessels for other's creativity? We don't have any responsibility for the users of our machines or services no more than a pencil manufacturer is responsible for hate speech written with their pencils. Please just give us a safe harbor to launch our ships from and save the chilling effects for those that sail them.
This would seem to be the easiest option. In just restricting ourselves to being a tool we, ostrich in the sand, escape the winds blowing above. If we do not do this well and shore up our legal defenses however, content companies will still come after us. We would have to build the legal safe harbours guaranteeing our future. If we stay out of this debate we may have to accept the two other options regardless. Who will we sell machines to if the people making things will not be able to make money? Is the hobbyist market going to propel us towards better machines? Or will we get stuck, unable to sell any better devices because there will be little value in buying them?
If there is no business model will anyone have the money to buy the next generation of 3D printers? What if we maintain this defense and see a world being formed where no business models exist for designers or where a few companies control all form? Will a stifling of creativity stifle us? If we do not create a bedrock of attribution, creativity and reward, who will? Isn't it naïve of us to make book presses without trying to promote reading or writing? After all would YouTube exist without its piracy heyday?
I do not have a definitive answer to these questions. I'm not sure what we should do. From a business perspective a Shipyard approach whereby we would be able to keep IP considerations far from our shores would seem to be the logical thing to do. If we would be able to cement our industry as a tool whose operational use was squarely in the hands of the user we would seem to have the least liability and highest degree of operating freedom. Positioning ourselves as a screwdriver, pair of scissors or box cutter would seem to be the easiest path. But, in looking back many years from now I don't know if this would be the right choice. In a world of crumbling institutions, lobbying and state capture, guardians of individual freedoms must come forth.
Our technology is the easiest way through mechanical means to express oneself through the production of things. It is not a simple case of us making machines that make things but rather one of us serving as the simplest path to creation and freedom of expression through manufacturing by any one individual. Whether we like it or not this conveys certain responsibilities upon us. In a world where wealth, power and influence become ever more concentrated in the hands of the few we represent a way for the many to regain those powers. What if with every layer we can be the pinprick in the Leviathan's skin?
Marxism is thoroughly discredited now, the realm of cooks and curmudgeons, but what if 3D printing is the bolt cutter for all our chains? What if we could all attain the means of production? Libertarianism can often be seen as a movement consisting of the wrong people reading the wrong books at the wrong time. A fairytale of architects and industrialists feeding the minds of those whose critical thinking has not yet escaped the limits of their idealism. But, what if there were one device that could free one completely from the state?
Capitalism seems a default, like gravity or rain, something one can't live outside of. But, what if this device made us all the puppeteers gently holding the invisible hands? What if...salt embedded in our skin, wind tousling our hair, ocean beating the wood; a never ending thudding drum, the sea spray misty before us and the ever present skin tingling tightening of the rope around us, we know deep in our hearts that we should be pirates?