In the US there are very few things that are simply illegal to own and use. The US does not regulate manufacturing with the use of CNC machines or creating things with woodworking tools so creating an item with 3D printing is not different.
In general 3D printing is not and should not be illegal. 3D printing is an amazing tool for prototypes and startup companies that are proofing out designs. 3D printing also has a lot of utility for manufacturing, home printing, and hobbyists.
3D printing is a gateway from imagination and the physical world. If 3D printing is made illegal it will limit the ability of creators around the world to design and prove out prototypes.
In the US the freedoms of the constitution protect the government from taking away the right to 3D print. It is unlikely that 3D printing technology will ever be made illegal so all of the litigation surrounding it will probably become more strict and more defined but the act of 3D printing is still very legal.
Who Is Responsible For Product Liability When 3D Printing?
As a general rule the person programming and operating a 3D printer is liable for any faulty or dangerous 3D prints. If someone is harmed by 3D printing an object or a 3D printed object, that is faulty, breaks and harms someone the person who actually printed the part is liable.
Designers of 3D models can not be held liable for faulty 3D printed objects. It is the responsibility of the person printing the part to decide if the item is safe and if it is in good operating order.
Trying to sue a designer of a 3D print model is like trying to sue someone who uploads woodworking plans for the operator’s inability to safely work a saw.
In other words, if someone cuts themselves while operating a saw it is not usually the saw manufacturers fault or the person who drew up the plans fault but rather the person using the saw who is at fault.
What Things Are Already Illegal To 3D Print.
There are many things that are already illegal to 3D print (In the US). I have already compiled the list for you on my post 7 Things That Are Highly Illegal To 3D Print.
Should 3D Printing Be Regulated?
As a whole 3D printing is already regulated in some ways. It is the duty of the person programming and operating the 3D printer to know and understand their local laws and jurisdictions and to abide by them.
If it is illegal to own an item in your country, then it is illegal to 3D print that item as well.
The issue that arises is that there is an increased accessibility to illegal items. Currently in Australia it is illegal to own a firearm but it is not outside the realm of possibility for someone to 3D print a functioning firearm and use it in Australia.
The government is trusting that its citizens will follow the laws in their jurisdiction and not create things that could harm others.
The counter to that argument is if someone really wants to commit a crime, they will find a way to do it.
Can You Copyright A 3D Model?
You can copyright a 3D model under the US copyright law. A copyright legally protects any originally produced intellectual property including artistic works such as 3D models. You do not have to register your 3D model for it to be protected by copyright laws.
If you are trying to seek additional protection for your product you can register your work and claim it as your own original design.
There is a fee associated with registering your product but if you are trying to pursue someone civilly for copying your content you will need to have it registered.
Should We Be More Careful Uploading Models?
We should be careful when uploading some models to protect intellectual properties from entering the hands of people with malicious intent.
There are many models for 3D printed guns already on the internet and it begs the question, How easy will it be for terrorist, the cartel, or countries that have intent to harm others.
Follow your government and local laws to avoid prison for something as ridiculous as 3D printing an illegal item.
This is in no way legal advice. It is up to each individual to follow the law.