Today is a discussion about a comment we received on Facebook from a listener. We had to sit back and say, “Do we really feel this way or not?”
A long-time listener, Joseph, who says he loves the show commented on our episode with Hector from 3D Shook and said he was really happy with Hector’s response to our question about being worried about his STL files being distributed unfairly or stolen essentially. Joseph said he feels that our crippling fear of people stealing our designs is hurting us and not helping the 3D printing industry either.
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Are We Really Worried About Our Designs Being Stolen?
I don’t think we really have a crippling fear of our designs being stolen. We have made some decisions about what we’re willing to do with the files we create. I think it’s a more complicated history for us. We’re in an industry where we deal with that every single day. We do so much business in China; we know what it’s like to have your ideas stolen. Staples stole two of our designs. We’re well aware of what happens, and you can’t do anything about it. All of a sudden, we’re out of income; we didn’t get our royalty. We know exactly what that’s like, and honestly we’re not afraid of that. That is not a fear that I have: that someone is going to steal our design.
It’s a different problem that we have. Because of our position on WTFFF as well as having some design leadership in the types of products that we make, there is some issues with them not turning out well. An STL file gives someone too much flexibility still not to make it successfully the way we did. We found this when we tried to give our tie file out.
We have had several different FFF printing service bureaus and printer manufacturers print our tie because we were looking for an outsource to print it beyond our capacity with our machines here because we are doing new things all the time. We did that early on with the angel, too. They come back in poor quality, or they don’t print at all. There are very few professionals who have been able to print the tie print.
We will give a shout-out to Patrick at Voodoo Manufacturing who did a fantastic job on it. The printers they use take about half the time that it takes on our printers, and the quality was flawless. It may have even been better than the quality that comes off of our printers sometimes. But that is really rare. We have had many people struggle and fail to be able to do it.
If I have a fear about things, I don’t want to sell someone a file or give it away and have them not be successful making it. That bothers me way more than someone stealing it. If it’s good, they’re going to steal it. Fine. I have more of a problem with them being unsuccessful doing it and then saying it’s a bad design. That bothers me more.
There are so many variables in slicing software and in printers and how they work that I am much more comfortable just delivering a stream through 3D Printer OS or something like that where the slicing settings are defined there and you stream the print to a printer. You know it has a better chance of success than just putting an STL file out there that anybody can do anything with.
Our question to Hector was a bit different. The thing is Hector has a design library, and he has designers who contribute designs to that. He is at a place where he is looking to expand and have outside designers bring designs into that. When you do that, you have to offer some moderate amount of protection. You’re not paying them to put their designs on there, so you have to be able to say, “You’re going to get paid. Someone will buy one, print 100 of them, and you will only get a buck from it. Sorry.”
That’s not an okay situation in which to attract good design, and that’s more my problem with that situation. That is the Pinshape model as well. To me, it’s purely financial. It’s not the fear of somebody stealing my design. We have done over 250 retail products in the last 15 years. We know you’re going to get knocked off, especially if it’s good, and you move onto the next one. You make as much money as you can and you move on. We don’t waste a lot of time fighting people in court over designs that were stolen. We let Staples get away with it because we’re not going to go waging a war like that. Even when you win, you lose.
The reality is the designs that we create, we put a lot of time into them, and there is a lot of value associated with that. I’m not doing this just to give them away for free. I can understand somebody doing that, considering it a marketing expense. You’re trying to establish your credibility. You can do that if you want. But we don’t need to, and I’m not interested in doing that. We don’t have a marketing budget here; let’s be clear about that. But I would much prefer to stream it if I’m going to put a file out there and allow others to print it. There are people working on this technology for exactly this reason.
The case goes, too. The tie is not a good example of it. But when you are creating something that’s a toy or something that could potentially be printed wrong, and then a part breaks off and some kid swallows it or something happens when somebody gets hurt, those are the considerations I think about. That is obviously because we are both burdened and experienced in this world of product design and liability. We know what happens there. I just don’t want anybody to get hurt or not be satisfied with my products.
I wonder how Mattel is going to deal with this with their new 3D printer. Their printer is a pretty basic design; it doesn’t have some special or unique capability that others don’t have. What Mattel has that no one else has is their brands, and that’s why people are going to buy that printer. But I wonder how Mattel is going to deal with these issues. Are they going to distribute STL files? I know they have an ecosystem and are working on this and figuring it out. But are they going to allow potential variables in the printing of those objects that could make a bad impression on Mattel brands? Or are they going to deal with this differently? I’m curious as to how these things will play there. I really am curious about how that will play out.
We will have an upcoming episode with Tom Simon, who is also dealing with license rights management, and it’s an interesting topic. There has to be commerce at some point, or you’re just going to keep getting people with time on the side to put up designs. It has to at some point pay for it. Whether that is companies shelling out funds to get their marketplaces filled with great designs. But it doesn’t happen in the marketing world, retail, anywhere that those designs come for free. No one has free products there. There may not be a designer involved in it, but a company is making it and making money. If the only thing that is value at the end of the day is the design, then the designer is the manufacturer, and they deserve to be paid for that.
Will it get knocked off? The reality is it will. But the designer should be paid. They sold well, and that’s why they get knocked off. Now they are making #2 or #20. That’s what happens. That’s how the process works. That’s the commerce world.
I’m thrilled if somebody wants to reverse-engineer and try to recreate my tie design. Go for it. You’ll learn a ton from doing it and be a better designer of other objects in the future for it. By all means. That’s fair game. And it’s flattering to an extent. Go for it.
We have our perspectives from our past experiences and our history. We are designers. This is not a hobby for us. We respect other people’s opinions. Joseph, I appreciate your comment, and I hope you’re okay with us talking about it today. We didn’t ask you ahead of time. But it is out there on Facebook for everyone to see anyway. We appreciate everybody’s differing opinions, and they are good subjects to talk about. Maybe our thoughts will change in the future. It’s flexible. We have business goals that are different from what they were a year ago when we started this podcast, and they will be different a year in the future when the market changes. Maybe there will be a time in which we will be giving away files as part of a marketing promotion program. It could be happening sooner than you think.
The reality is that today, we don’t have a marketing budget. This is not what our podcast is all about. We’re having to fund this out of our own pocket. To give away our designs on top of that, we don’t have time to make more designs at this point.
I think like Hector in 3D Shook, they are in the business to make money. They have investors who have to produce a return. I think it was a valid question to ask. I certainly think Hector was concerned about it. He just has his own opinion about it, which is very realistic and a good thing. I liked his response; I asked the question because I wanted to hear what he would say.
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