The Public Knowledge think tank has issued a white paper warning that the open source community faces new intellectual property challenges with the growth of 3D printing.
3D printing uses technology based around thermal inkjet printers to build 3D objects, laying down a strip of molecules at a time. It is likely to be vital to future motherboard manufacturing, and could have much wider uses.
"The ability to print objects on demand has the potential to be just as disruptive as the ability to summon digital information from anywhere in the world," the white paper said.
"Users can scan a 3D object, modify it using free, easy-to-use software, and print out a new version at home."
However, the technology opens up a legislative minefield of differing laws, much as it was in the early 1970s for the birth of the VCR and the PC.
"In the EU an individual can make any object for their own use so long as they don't try and sell it. That's not the case in the US."
Michael Weinberg, the white paper's author, said that the technological community needs to get ready for this next round of legislative pressure when new intellectual property laws come into debate.
"There were a lot of items in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act [DMCA] that weren't thought out, and we're running into problems with them because there wasn't an organised open source community to contact legislators," he told V3.co.uk.
"Our hope is that we'll be ahead of the curve and that, if there is a DMCA law that comes along that would cause similar problems, we could fix this."
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