Physical objects and the-internet-as-copying-machine

Paul Raven @ 08-02-2011

If you think we’re struggling to police the duplication of non-physical items on the internet, just wait until 3D printing gets a little bit more commonplace. Here’s a sort of soft-run test case at Fabbaloo, wherein a Thingiverse user subbed a set of playing piece designs for the Settlers of Catan board game. Copyright infringement? Well, possibly not, at least as things stand:

Another view comes from website Public Knowledge, who have taken the time to analyze this a bit deeper. Their approach was to examine each of the methods of protecting ideas: Copyright, Patent and Trademark. What did they determine?

  • Copyright: They believe that copyright extends only to the images and logos used by the game. Since the Thingiverse objects don’t include or attempt to include the images, they likely don’t violate copyright. The object designs are effectively not copyrightable, since they are simply common shapes and would be considered “functional objects”.
  • Patent: Patents are typically used to protect the rules of the game, rather than its components. In this case, the inventor did not patent the game, and even if he did, it would be expiring in 2015 anyway.
  • Trademark: A trademark protects only the icon or symbol of a product. In this case, the Thingiverse submission did not use in any way the trademark.

It then appears that the offending Thingiverse user is likely not offending at all. But if that’s the case, then this opens up a pretty wide hole in the generation of intellectual property. We may see a lot more “functional objects” appearing in the future, and it’s not sure how this may affect the inventors.

One thing’s for sure – there’ll be no shortage of work for lawyers.


Keys cloned from long-range photographs

Paul Raven @ 30-10-2008

bunch of keysHere’s a neat but nasty little criminal hack that some smart folks at UC San Diego just released as a proof-of-concept: it’s possible for someone to clone your house keys from a photograph taken up to 200 feet away.

The keys used in the most common residential locks in the United States have a series of 5 or 6 cuts, spaced out at regular intervals. The computer scientists created a program in MatLab that can process photos of keys from nearly any angle and measure the depth of each cut. String together the depth of each cut and you have a key’s bitting code, which together with basic information on the brand and type of key you have, is what you need to make a duplicate key.

Crafty stuff, so much so that they suggest that blurring your key teeth on public photographs is probably as wise as blurring your credit card numbers – though it’s hard to imagine a criminal bothering to do this if they could just get their hands on the right sort of bump key.

But it’s a great example of the sort of minor science fiction plot point that would have sounded ridiculously futuristic just ten years ago… I guess maybe tagging yourself with an RFID chip to open your door has merits after all. [picture by Bohman]