The legal aspects of democratised innovation, and more specifically the growing availability of personal fabrication technologies, self-publishing and customisation services are of interest to me.
Consider for example the Expresso Book Machine (EBM), or Kindle. Both technologies require digitisation of the written word. This means that the data for each book is stored digitally. Data in this form is vulnerable to theft given the nature of its form. Distribution of the stolen data is also particularly problematic as it can potentially be shared between millions of people in a small space of time. Recovering the stolen data is virtually impossible. This obviously relates to the music and film industry also where file sharing of media had serious impacts for revenue. I suggest that file sharing will also impact upon the product industry.
Consider ‘The Product Bay’, a speculative site recently established which plays upon ‘The Pirate Bay’, a site where users can download digital media. ‘The Product Bay is the Pirate Bay for objects.’ As a product designer/researcher, I can imagine a future of illegally file shared product designs.
On a more legal viewpoint, it is possible to imagine an iProduct or iObject future, where I can legally download product designs to print via my ‘desktop fabricator’. That is, if Hod Lipson and Neil Gershenfeld have their way. Infact such sites facilitating this exist today, consider Ponoko or Materialise.
Beyond this are issues of creating illegal products. The EBM, for example allows the author to potentially completely bypass the publisher however the publisher plays an important role in regulating printed contact and ensuring that authors do not plagarise or infringe copyright. The same is true of the product world, products are subject to carefully controlled safety testing and related regulations. If personal fabrication becomes commonplace it is feasible to suggest that we may see the emergence of unsafe and dangerous products, as well as, illegal and immoral products.
Designers and manufacturers are also required not to copy designs, they face legal implications if they do, however copying by end users is likely with developments in digital and personal fabrication technology. This has implications for the manufacturing industry as well as designers.
I have been thinking about the potentially disruptive effects of such a development in the object/product world and it relates also to the business world. These developments may do for the product design and manufacturing industry what ‘Napster’ or ‘The Pirate Bay’ have done for the music and film industry. The difference in this case is that we are learning from the vulnerabilities and lack of foresight of the music and film industry. Such developments are potentially advantageous and at the same time risky. The challenge is for designers to anticipate such changes and adapt practice and business models to make the most of a change that we are likely to see.