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Suppose I have a design for a truck. Simple enough. Possibly in a .CAD file or some such program. I publish this design on my website under a BY-NC-ND licence. Someone on the web finds my design and builds it using wood or a 3d printer. Now we have a phyical object.

My Question:

Now that we have this object does the licence from the design carry over onto the object that was created based on the design?

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TL;DR

  • The .CAD model would be characterized as artistic, even if it is not exactly what people would expect as "art".
  • The act of 3D-printing the object would be characterized as a Reproduction in the terms of the license.
  • Yes, the license to the design does carry over onto the object that was created based on the design. But it barely manages to do that.
  • The license is inadequate to be applied to a .CAD file that could be 3D-printed.
  • The license has some holes that can be exploited for someone with the intent of circumventing it.

Detailed long explanation

I am not an specialist on the subject, but I will try to answer based on the best knowledge that I have.

The license is somewhat lengthy to analyze in detail, so I will summarize the relevant points from the full text:

First, it is applied to a "Work". What exactly is a work on this license?

1(f) "Work" means the literary and/or artistic work offered under the terms of this License including without limitation any production in the literary, scientific and artistic domain, [...]

Literary? Nope.

Scientific? Neither.

Artistic? Possibly, so lets try to grab on this. Even if a truck is not exactly what people would normally wait from the word "artistic".

[...] whatever may be the mode or form of its expression including digital form, such as a book, pamphlet and other writing; a lecture, address, sermon or other work of the same nature; a dramatic or dramatico-musical work; a choreographic work or entertainment in dumb show; a musical composition with or without words; a cinematographic work to which are assimilated works expressed by a process analogous to cinematography; a work of drawing, painting, architecture, sculpture, engraving or lithography; a photographic work to which are assimilated works expressed by a process analogous to photography; a work of applied art; an illustration, map, plan, sketch or three-dimensional work relative to geography, topography, architecture or science; a performance; a broadcast; a phonogram; a compilation of data to the extent it is protected as a copyrightable work; or a work performed by a variety or circus performer to the extent it is not otherwise considered a literary or artistic work.

The relevant parts are architecture, sculpture, a work of applied art and three-dimensional work relative to geography, topography, architecture or science. So, clearly the Work is the 3D representation of the truck encoded in the file. It is not a sculpture, since the .CAD file nor the model represented there are physical entities. It could be a three-dimensional work, although a truck is not geography or topography, but it is possibly (although hardly defensible) architecture or science. It could be a work of applied art (let's grab on that then).

1(c). "Distribute" means to make available to the public the original and copies of the Work through sale or other transfer of ownership.

1(h). "Publicly Perform" means to perform public recitations of the Work and to communicate to the public those public recitations, by any means or process, including by wire or wireless means or public digital performances; to make available to the public Works in such a way that members of the public may access these Works from a place and at a place individually chosen by them; to perform the Work to the public by any means or process and the communication to the public of the performances of the Work, including by public digital performance; to broadcast and rebroadcast the Work by any means including signs, sounds or images.

1(i). "Reproduce" means to make copies of the Work by any means including without limitation by sound or visual recordings and the right of fixation and reproducing fixations of the Work, including storage of a protected performance or phonogram in digital form or other electronic medium.

Reproduction and distribution are not clearly differentiated in those terms, but in general what the license tried to say is that playing a song in public is publicly performing, putting it inside a CD is a reproduction and giving or selling the CD is a distribution. In your case, 3D-printing it would be a reproduction and giving or selling it would be a distribution.

To prove that, lets focus on to make copies of the Work by any means [...], clearly 3D-printing is that, so it is reproduction.

Public performing a 3D-printed truck is unclear. The 3D-printed truck is clearly not something being communicated, recited, broadcasted or rebroadcasted. So the part that might apply is to make available to the public Works in such a way that members of the public may access these Works from a place -AND- at a place individually chosen by them. In my interpretation, exposing the 3D-printed truck on a museum or in an event would be something like that. But... what if you are just selling the 3D-printed objects in a shop and they are not closed inside a box? Would be this be a public perform? I don't know, but it would be at least an overly-stretch of the intended purpose of that (which should be distribution, not public performance). And this could apply even if you are selling something like a painting or a map.

1(b). "Adaptation" means a work based upon the Work, or upon the Work and other pre-existing works, such as a translation, adaptation, derivative work, arrangement of music or other alterations of a literary or artistic work, or phonogram or performance and includes cinematographic adaptations or any other form in which the Work may be recast, transformed, or adapted including in any form recognizably derived from the original, except that a work that constitutes a Collection will not be considered an Adaptation for the purpose of this License. For the avoidance of doubt, where the Work is a musical work, performance or phonogram, the synchronization of the Work in timed-relation with a moving image ("synching") will be considered an Adaptation for the purpose of this License.

The 3D-printed object is clearly an unexpected outlier here, but I tend to interpret "adaptation" as "alterations", "changes" or "derivation". Simply 3D-printing out the object is not an adaptation in that way. But if you say, change its color or change the position of the truck doors or add an extra pair of wheels, then you are adapting.

  1. License Grant. Subject to the terms and conditions of this License, Licensor hereby grants You a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, perpetual (for the duration of the applicable copyright) license to exercise the rights in the Work as stated below:

    a. to Reproduce the Work, to incorporate the Work into one or more Collections, and to Reproduce the Work as incorporated in the Collections; and,

    b. to Distribute and Publicly Perform the Work including as incorporated in Collections.

So you might 3D-print it freely (reproduce), give or sell it freely (distribute) and expose it freely (publicly perform).

The above rights may be exercised in all media and formats whether now known or hereafter devised. The above rights include the right to make such modifications as are technically necessary to exercise the rights in other media and formats, but otherwise you have no rights to make Adaptations. Subject to 8(f), all rights not expressly granted by Licensor are hereby reserved, including but not limited to the rights set forth in Section 4(d).

Let's focus on this: "The above rights include the right to make such modifications as are technically necessary to exercise the rights in other media and formats, but otherwise you have no rights to make Adaptations." This means that you can't print it modified, except if required for some technical requirement (like adding supports to the 3D model to ensure that it would not break during the print process).

Section 4(d) says about royalties (so it is irrelevant here). And about 8(f), well... There is no section 8(f) there (WTF?). There is 8(a), 8(b), 8(c), 8(d) and 8(e), but no 8(f). Well, let's just move on then...

Let's see section 4(a):

  1. Restrictions. The license granted in Section 3 above is expressly made subject to and limited by the following restrictions:

    a. You may Distribute or Publicly Perform the Work only under the terms of this License. You must include a copy of, or the Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) for, this License with every copy of the Work You Distribute or Publicly Perform. [...]

    b. You may not exercise any of the rights granted to You in Section 3 above in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation. [...]

    c. If You Distribute, or Publicly Perform the Work or Collections, You must, unless a request has been made pursuant to Section 4(a), keep intact all copyright notices for the Work and provide, reasonable to the medium [...]

You may distribute but not change it. Adding a URI or a copy of the license to a physical 3D-printed object is strange, but I guess that this is doable with a small piece of paper with the URI given or distributed together with the object.

At this point it is clear to me that the 3D-printed object will be subject to the same license that the .CAD file was, mainly because 3D-printing it would be a reproduction. To finish with that:

8(a) Each time You Distribute or Publicly Perform the Work or a Collection, the Licensor offers to the recipient a license to the Work on the same terms and conditions as the license granted to You under this License.

I.E., if the 3D-printing process creates a reproduction, then the 3D-printed truck is subject to the license. So, your answer is YES, the license to the design carry over onto the object that was created based on the design.

Finally, if you intend to 3D-print it and sell the produced item:

4(b) You may not exercise any of the rights granted to You in Section 3 above in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation. The exchange of the Work for other copyrighted works by means of digital file-sharing or otherwise shall not be considered to be intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation, provided there is no payment of any monetary compensation in connection with the exchange of copyrighted works.

Which basically means that you cannot sell or rent it for profit. You can only borrow or give it for free, or no more than sell it just by its production and shipping price. However, if you are intending to sell it for profit, it is really easy to circumvent this (don't know if this is a good or a bad thing). If you want to sell the 3D-printed truck for say $ 10.00, you might sell something else that costs $ 1.00 (e.g., a candy) for $ 11.00 and "give" the 3D-printed object as a gift to whoever buys the (overpriced) candy. As long as the government don't impose crazy taxes or regulations about the distribution of the 3D-printed object (like what would happen to a weapon), nothing on the license stops you from this type of circumvention.

To finish the interpretation of the license, I don't think that the remaining sections of the license are relevant to your question.


That license were clearly written with something in mind that can be represented and transmitted as bits and bytes and be realized in the real world as text, sounds and images. It was designed mostly for text, music and video, but the 3D-printed object clearly is not that. In my opinion, putting the BY-NC-ND license into a .CAD object that could be 3D-printed is a bad idea, since the license was not really designed for things like that. The result is the need to apply some overly-stretched interpretations to make sense from the license.

Finally, I think that the license is somewhat shaky in its legalese:

  • The fact that there is no section 8(f) is a blunder, or at least an epic failed typo.
  • The fact that restriction 4(b) can be circumvented is a failure also.
  • The fact that the license fails to clearly define "Reproduction" and "Distribution" is also bad.
  • The fact that it might need overly-stretched interpretations to make sense in some cases shows that a review in its terms is needed.
  • If the Work was to be classified as a three-dimensional work of geography, topography, architecture or science, but suddenly a reproduction transforms it also in a sculpture without characterizing an adaptation. So, the work changed in its nature when it was not expected to do so. This will probably lead to unexpected consequences. BTW, 3D-scanning an physical object and creating a .CAD file from it also works as the inverse process.
  • Finally, this only applies if the Work is something "artistic". If you can somehow demonstrate that there is no art in the 3D-printed object, you might be able to escape this. However, to demonstrate that something is or is not artistic, is something hard because the term "art" is inherently fuzzy and opinative. A model of Mona Lisa or of the Eiffel Tower is clearly artistic. A model of a truck is very debatable and unconclusive if it is artistic.
  • If you can/could circumvent the license with the 3D-print process and make the physical object not protected by the license, by 3D-scanning the 3D-printed object back to a .CAD file you would be able to completely circumvent the license. Oops!
  • Can we have a short version of this? :) (It's an excellent answer as well) – Zizouz212 Jun 27 '15 at 18:24
  • @Zizouz212 Section TL;DR added. – Victor Stafusa Jun 27 '15 at 19:09
  • ...well then. Just a little information :) – ArtOfCode Jun 27 '15 at 20:45

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