The call for a harmonized “Community” License for 3D Content – Part II

Ponoko, Cubify, 3DWarehouse, oh my!

Let’s start first by reviewing one of the older services available to host 3D content and see how they address the issue. I am assuming for purposes of this review that all of the terms of service are in fact enforceable (which might be a big assumption!).

Google 3D Warehouse

Google has been publicly hosting and re-distributing 3D content (primarily in their .SKP file format) for a long time by Internet standards, since at least 2006.   Have you ever thought to read the Google terms applicable to the 3DWarehouse service?  If not, you can find them at:

Under Section 5.7.3, you agree not to upload any content which violates the IP of a third party.  That part is not necessarily surprising.  Google wants you (as the user) to be responsible for the content you post.

What might be surprising is that if you do decide to upload content to the service that under Section 11.1(b) you grant Google “the perpetual, sublicensable, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any [c]ontent or derivative works thereof which you submit, post or display on or through, the [s]ervices.”  This license grant is of the typical type associated with works protected by copyright (but not necessarily other IP types). By virtue of Section 11.2, you grant Google the right to extend this right to other companies or organizations which use the services, and under Section 11.1(c), you grant these rights to other users of the services.   Under Section 11.6 you warrant that you have the right to grant the licenses in this section.

While you are not restricted from providing the content you upload to the service to others under different terms (see Section 11.3(a)) even if you remove the content from the service and terminate your relationship with Google, the license granted in Section 11 continues.

OK, as a practical matter, what does this mean?

It means that once you upload content, you have granted virtually an unlimited right for Google, and third parties, to distribute your work, as well as to create derivative works, without any clear attribution rights back to you.  Google does not provide a selective licensing mechanism to allow people who upload content to pick how much (or how little) of their rights they want to grant or extend to downstream users.  If it turns out that you uploaded something that you didn’t own the rights to, by operation of Section 5.7.3 and 11.6 you could be found to be in breach of contract with Google (as well as subject to an independent infringement action from the actual rights holder).


Ponoko has clearly thought through the implications of IP on the capture or create/modify/make ecosystem.  They walk contributors through a list of Creative Commons license types (for an example see here depending on how the user chooses to sell products or product plans.  The Ponoko terms of use can be found here – and a statement on intellectual property here

Unlike the Google approach, Ponoko makes it clear that they do not obtain any underlying rights to objects which are uploaded to their service other than a right to display them to market the objects for sale.  Even this right expires six (6) months after the item has first been uploaded.


Thingiverse  is the community hosting site for 3D printable content run by Makerbot Industries.  The terms of service can be found here –   Thingiverse follows the same general scheme as Ponoko.  In addition to the limited right granted to Thingiverse necessary to incorporate contributed content into the site and services (found in Section 3.2), the contributor is asked to select which Creative Commons license type they want to share their content under, see Section 3.3.  Thingiverse’s DMCA take-down notice can be found here –


GrabCAD bills itself as a community site offering 3D models for mechanical engineers (and roughly 29K models in early March 2012).  GrabCAD’s terms of service can be found here:

GrabCAD generally follows the Google model, and places the burden on IP clearance issues and concerns with the content contributor, see Section 2 “Responsibility of Contributors.”  GrabCAD does include a DMCA notice as well at Section 7.


Shapeways provides a shop to print existing uploaded 3D content, a pathway for “advanced” users to upload their own models for production, as well as a pathway for “Easy Creators” which allows for the simplified personalization of stock content (suck as cuff links, customized sake set, etc.), see:

Shapeways’ terms and conditions, last updated in February 2012, can be found here –  See the subsections titled “user generated content” and “intellectual property rights in the 3D design”.  Except for 3D Designs, if you upload content to the Shapeways site you grant Shapeways a royalty-free right to use, including create derivative works, based on the uploaded content.  By uploading it, the contributor represents that the content does not infringe any other IP rights. This is consistent with the Google approach.

With respect to uploaded 3D designs, the contributor grants Shapeways the limited right to use the design to manufacture the model to fulfill legitimate orders as well as to display it on the website.  It is possible to change the rights allocation so that the model is only displayed on the website (but cannot be produced).  Shapeways approach to uploaded 3D designs is similar to that of Ponoko.

Cubify (from 3D Systems)

Cubify is in the process of launching – they don’t expect to launch until later in 2012.  Their current terms of service can be found and

Cubify will allow for the download of hosted models under several license types, see Section 5 of the Terms of Service, specifically Sections 5(d), (e), and (f).  These are a “standard royalty free license”, and “editorial license only” and “royalty free license with model release.”  To be able to become a contributor, a user must become a “Cubify Artist”, see:

iMaterialize (from Materialise) 

iMaterialize is the service run by Materialise with the primary focus of providing a location for designers (mostly well known, rather than community developed) to host unique, 3D printable objects.  The models themselves are not downloadable so that derivative works can be made from them.  The FAQ is here: the legal terms are found here:  Whether this site develops over time to be more like Ponoko or Thingiverse remains to be seen.

The FAQ, in refreshing non-legalese, states that: “The person who placed the initial order is considered the owner of the model and has the IP rights for that model. By accepting the vendor terms and conditions, you give i.materialise the right to produce copies of the model in return for a designer’s fee. Normally, the owner is also the designer. That is why we call it a designer’s fee. If you didn’t design the model yourself, but want a special designer’s page for the person who did, please contact us for permission to set up a designer page for this designer.”

The iMaterialize website has a very clean UI in order for a designer to set-up a virtual shop, see:

Summary of Approaches

Service License Type Other notable
Google 3Dwarehouse Unique Might be surprising to learn that once uploaded you grant Google a right to share and even commercialize with others.
Ponoko CCL Elegant drop down license “picker” as part of upload process.
Cubify Unique New site and service, full terms likely under development.  Unclear why 3D Systems did not gravitate towards the CCL scheme rather than developing their own nomenclature.
Shapeways Unique Shapeways, in its terms and conditions, makes explicit distinctions between user uploaded content which is a 3D model versus that which is not.
GrabCAD Unique Contributed content is intended for “non-commercial” use unless otherwise specified by the contributor.  Unclear specifically then what an engineer who downloads content is allowed to do with it.   See Section 4.
Thingiverse CCL Thingiverse expressly states that they will share the CCL selected by the contributor with other sites, but that they are not responsible of that secondary site or service fails to adhere to those terms, see the last sentence of Section 3.2
iMaterialise Unique Not a hosting and community site per se.  Intended to provide a commercialization avenue for unique creations from designers.  Very interesting material selector pages –  Geared towards creating a physical model, not facilitating the sharing and modification of models for downstream uses.

Various Approaches and Interests

As you can see from our view from the trenches, vendors are approaching IP concerns in the create-capture/modify/make ecosystem differently.

This is an area that the folks at Creative Commons are clearly watching (the folks behind the CCL), see the post titled “CC and 3D Printing Community.”

The challenge with the current CC licensing schemes is that they were never intended to cover functional content (that which might be covered by IP rights other than copyright).    As the blog above notes –

With the exception of CC0, the Creative Commons licenses are only for granting permissions to use non-software works. The worlds of software and engineering have additional concerns outside of the scope of what is addressed by the CC licenses. 3D printing is a new medium which encompasses both the creative domains of culture and engineering, and often 3D printed works do not fall neatly into either category.

So what does this mean?  Well, basically, that despite best intentions, services that have tried to create a structured approach to IP issues in the 3D printing community by relying on the CCL scheme have done so prematurely.  Creative Commons does not apparently believe that the CCL scheme, as currently drafted, “works” here.  Uh oh and oh no.

What is Needed?

An integrated, harmonized approach to dealing with all IP considerations in the create-capture/modify/make ecosystem is required.

This is a topic which is already being actively examined for remedy in the CCL 4.0 release cycle.  Far beyond me (as there are domain and policy experts considering the interplay of these various schemes) to make a specific, actionable, proposal – other than to highlight that one is in fact desperately needed.  One that the current stakeholders can work together to formulate and adopt from a policy perspective – and then implement as close to uniformly as possible in their offerings.

The answer may come in the form of a new CCL type (but as the above discussion highlights, there are some distinct incompatibilities between the CCL scheme entirely and combined functional and creative works).  The answer may also come in the form of a new rights scheme applicable broadly to this type of content.   What should not acceptable to anyone is where we currently are – a distinct, explicit shade of grey.

This blog was originally posted on March 22nd, 2012.

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