Social Practices of 3D Printing: Decentralising Control, and Reconfiguring Regulation

Main Article Content

Luke Heemsbergen
Robbie Fordyce
Bjorn Nansen
Thomas Apperley
Mike Arnold
Thomas Birtchnell


3D Printing, Design, Copyright, Intellectual Property, Patents, Mixed-Methods, Social Network Analysis, Trademarks, Peer-Production


This paper considers the social practices of 3D printing by comparing consumer perspectives and practices with legal scholarship on intellectual property regimes. The paper draws on data gained through a mixed-methods approach involving participant observation, focus groups, and social network analysis of 3D printing file-sharing practices. It finds that while consumers display a level of naivety about their 3D printing rights and responsibilities, they possess a latent understanding about broader digital economies that guide their practices. We suggest that the social practices associated with 3D printing function through communication networks to decentralise manufacture and reconfigure legal capacities for regulation. The paper concludes by introducing nascent paths forward for policy frames across industry, government and consumer concern to address the opportunities and challenges of 3D printing’s evolving interface with society.


Download data is not yet available.
Abstract 656 | PDF Downloads 9 Social aspects of 3D printing - revised format Downloads 0


A Third Industrial Revolution. (2012 April 21). The Economist.
Anderson, C. (2012). Makers: the new industrial revolution: Random House.

Bak, D. (2003). Rapid prototyping or rapid production? 3D printing processes move industry towards the latter. Assembly Automation, 23(4), 340-345.

Benkler, Y. (2006). The wealth of networks: How social production transforms markets and freedom: Yale University Press.

Benkler, Y. (2011). The unselfish gene. Harvard business review, 89(7/8), 77-85.

Birtchnell, T., Böhme, T., & Gorkin, R. (2016). 3D printing and the third mission: The university in the materialization of intellectual capital. Technological Forecasting and Social Change.

Bogers, M., Hadar, R., & Bilberg, A. (2016). Additive manufacturing for consumer-centric business models: Implications for supply chains in consumer goods manufacturing. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 102, 225-239.

Creative Commons (n.d.) “Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International” Available at:

Crump, S. (1992). Apparatus and method for creating three-dimensional objects, US Patent No. 5121329. Google Patents.

Daly, A. (2016). Socio-Legal Aspects of the 3D Printing Revolution: Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Engstrom, N. F. (2013). 3-D printing and product liability: identifying the obstacles. University of Pennsylvania Law Review Online, 162(35).

Hall, C. (1986). Apparatus for production of three-dimensional objects by stereolithography. US Patent no. 4,575,330. Google Patents.

Holland, A. (2009). IP As You Know It Is Dead: The IP Implications of Cheap 3D Rapid Prototyping and the Radical Democratization of Manufacturing. Available at SSRN: Retrieved from

Hopkinson, N., Hague, R., & Dickens, P. (2006) Eds. Introduction to rapid manufacturing. Rapid Manufacturing: An Industrial Revolution for the Digital Age, 1-4. John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

Kellock, B. (1989). Excitement of technology trends. Machinery and Production Engineering, 147, 273.

Krogmann, C. (2012). The Impact of Direct Digital Manufacturing on Supply Chains. Berlin: GRIN Verlag.

Lemley, M. A. (2015). IP in a World without Scarcity. NYUL Rev., 90, 460.

Luckman, S. (2015). Women’s Micro-Entrepreneurial Homeworking. Australian Feminist Studies 30(84): 146-160.

Mendis, D., & Secchi, D. (2015). A Legal and Empirical Study of 3D Printing Online Platforms and an Analysis of User Behaviour. The Intellectual Property Office, UK.

Moilanen, J., Daly, A., Lobato, R., & Allen, D. (2015). Cultures of Sharing in 3D Printing: What Can We Learn from the Licence Choices of Thingiverse Users? Journal of Peer Production, 6.

Moilanen, J., & Vadén, T. (2013). 3D printing community and emerging practices of peer production. First Monday, 18(8).

Rittel, H. W., & Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy sciences, 4(2), 155-169.

Pham, D., & Gault, R. (1998). A comparison of rapid prototyping technologies. International Journal of machine tools and manufacture, 38(10), 1257-1287.

Scardamaglia, A. (2015). Flashpoints in 3D printing and trade mark law. Journal of Law, Information & Science.

Schrock, A. R. (2014). “Education in Disguise”: Culture of a Hacker and Maker Space. InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies, 10(1).

Seng, D. (2014). The State of the Discordant Union: An Empirical Analysis of DMCA Takedown Notices. Virginia Journal of Law and Technology, Forthcoming.

Smithson, J. (2000). Using and analysing focus groups: limitations and possibilities. International journal of social research methodology, 3(2), 103-119.

Söderberg, J. (2014). Reproducing Wealth Without Money, One 3D Printer at a Time: The Cunning of Instrumental Reason. Journal of Peer Production(4).

Stake, R. (2000). The Sage handbook of qualitative research. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), (pp. 435-454): Sage Publications, Incorporated.

Weinberg, M. (2016). 3D Scanning: A World Without Copyright*. Retrieved from Shapeways:

Weinberg, M. (2010). It Will be Awesome If They Don't Screw it Up: 3D Printing, Intellectual Property, and the Fight Over the Next Great Disruptive Technology: Public Knowledge.

Wholers, T. (2015 May, 29) Keynote Address. Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo. Melbourne, Australia.

Wood, L. (1990). Rapid prototyping. Uphill, but not moving. Manufacturing System, 8(12), 14-18.

Yin, R. K. (2008). How to do Better Case Studies. In L. Bickman & D. J. Rog (Eds.), The Sage handbook of applied social research methods: Sage Publications.

Yin, R. K. (2011). Applications of case study research: Sage Publications.