3D Printing “DRM” Aims to Stop Next-Gen Pirates

During the years to come 3D printing is expected to cause a small revolution, as people will be able to download and print pretty much everything imaginable. These opportunities also introduce new challenges and a new form of piracy will soon become mainstream. A start-up from California aims to neutralize this threat through a unique form of DRM, accompanied by 3D marks that allow manufacturers to bust the next generation of pirates.

downloadcarA decade ago people were truly amazed to find out that they could download entire movies using BitTorrent. At the time there were no official video download stores and YouTube wasn’t around either.

In the coming years another revolution is destined to unfold, that of 3D printing. While the 3D printer opens up a lot of possibilities to the public it also poses a major threat to dozens of industries.

Downloading a car is a serious possibility, and leeching the latest cover for your smartphone will soon be reality. The manufacturers, however, are not going to provide these copies for free, and that’s where the trouble starts.

To address the concerns of companies who plan to offer products as 3D designs, a new startup from California has developed a DRM-type system to make it harder to copy these files. Instead of allowing customers to download the designs, Authentise will be streamed to the 3D printer, allowing objects to be printed only once.

The technology goes live at SendShapes next month and more services are expected to appear in the future.

“We’re already talking to a number of people about using the technology to enable buying of designs online, with an iTunes-like functionality,” Authentise CEO Andre Wegner told Technology Review.

While the technology may be effective, it wont be perfect. History has taught us that there will always be cracks, circumvention tools, and people who want to share unauthorized copies.

The Pirate Bay has already prepared itself for these 3D pirates when it added a Physibles section last year. However, Pirate Bay founder Tobias Andersson told us earlier this month that he’s not certain whether the site can cope with the pressure this will bring along.

“The coming copy fights will be on a totally other level. I’m talking about the 3D printing revolution. In a few years, millions of blueprints of tools, car parts, clothing and weapons will be up for download. If there is a safe platform.”

“The Pirate Bay in its current form can withstand the pressure from quite harmless industries like the movie and music industries. But when car, oil, and weapons industries and all the countries that depend on them start to feel threatened, we can’t depend on a few people to sacrifice themselves.”

Whether it will be through The Pirate Bay or its eventual successor, one thing is for certain. 3D designs will be copied, both with and without the authorization of their makers.

Authentise is also prepared for this eventuality as the company has a marking technology that will print unique identifiers into each copy. These hallmarks can lead straight back to the person who initially bought the design, allowing sellers to pin down the leak.

“Instead of hoping to stop the creation of a digitally manufactured objects, each object printed will include one or multiple identifiers that enable investigators to trace any party along the value chain; the designer, the printer, and any intermediary,” writes the company in its forensics paper.

“Inserted hallmarks are designed to identify both the digitally manufactured object and any object produced by it. This opportunity turns traditional forensics on its head. The bullet casing might act as a fingerprint leading investigators directly to the person who printed the object.”

And so a new cat and mouse game is about to begin, and history will repeat itself once again.

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