Russell Davies
Russell Davies
A view from Russell Davies

Russell Davies: It's time to educate your clients to the reality of 3D printing

One day you'll sit your grandchild on your knee and they'll ask you when you realised 3D printing was going to change the world.

And maybe you'll mention last week, when The Pirate Bay announced that it was setting up a new section, which it's calling "Physibles".

The Pirate Bay is the world's most notorious file-sharing site, the place you can find torrents of movies and music from all over the world. You will probably have heard of them via the 2009 trial. But they are not just scuzzy illegal torrenters, there's a media and rights philosophy underlying their organisation - they have even spawned a political party in some countries. If they are creating a section for 3D files, it's a sign of something interesting.

They describe their move like this: "We believe that the next step in copying will be made from digital form into physical form. It will be physical objects. Or, as we decided to call them, Physibles - data objects that are able (and feasible) to become physical.

"We believe that things such as three-dimensional printers, scanners and such like are just the first step. We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare parts for your vehicles. You will download your sneakers within 20 years."

This feels like one of those little moments in the developments of a disruptive technology - one of those just beneath the radar rites of passage that precede it bursting into public attention and media outrage. We're not quite at the John-Humphrys-deliberately-misunderstanding-it-on-the-Today-programme stage yet, but we're getting there quickly.

3D printing has already had its first big copyright spat, with take-down notices flying and opinions raging about what constitutes copying if you reproduce an object. Even now, there must be law firms looking into setting up 3D practices - fuzzy legal territories are little gold mines for them.

Liberal angst and the right to bear arms have reared their contentious heads too. A prominent home for 3D designs, called Thingiverse, has been wrestling with the issue of users who upload designs for weapons and weapon components. They don't really want them there, but it's hard to make definitive rules about this sort of thing.

It's just another example of the types of issues any modern media phenomenon has to deal with; internationalisation, jurisdiction, being three steps ahead of written law or getting embroilled in political issues. And it's a sign that 3D printing is coming of age. We're probably a few years away from the mass pirating and printing of your clients' designs: the technology's not quite there yet - either in the printing or the materials - but it's coming. Maybe that's when the brand you're building will really be valuable.