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Low Poly Pokemon Project Challenges the Future of IP & 3D Printing
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By Davide Sher | 3D Printing Industry

The issue of copyrighting continues to gain momentum for the 3D printing industry, and it is highly complicated to boot. The wave of transformation that will take place in the gigantic consumer merchandising industry is already starting to break, however. One such early instance comes from one of the biggest examples of how a rather simple, original design can be transformed into a gigantic business: Nintendo’s Pokemon.

This is an issue that has so many facets, all of which threaten enormous consequences for the toy industry in the year(s) to come. As has been well documented in many forums, what happened in the past with digital piracy in the content industry (music, movies, video games) is nothing compared to the implications for digital piracy in the industry of real, solid objects and their designs.

Piracy is not the only issue. There is that of safeguarding one’s own right to create and share his or her creativity. How much can — and should — that be allowed if it ends up eroding the profits of those who created, and registered, the original designs in the first place? How much can the designer of a product inspired by a registered product be held responsible if he distributes those designs for free and others modify and sell them?

Nintendo’s recent case involving the removal of a Pokemon Bulbasaur designfrom Shapeways could be considered a real and huge precedent for what is to come so, when I was contacted by the original designer of the Low Poly Bulbasaur, Agustin Flowalistick, to explore that and other consequential issues, I immediately agreed to interview him but I had not event yet imagined all the possible implications for the industry that would arise form this conversation.

First of all let us clear up the scenario: Flowalistik, an Argentinian born designer living in Madrid for the past ten years (this is his portfolio) loves to create (really cool looking) low polygon Pokemon inspired designs. He publishes them on his own website and releases them on a Creative Commons license for anyone to 3D print (downloading them from Thingiverse or Youmagine).

So far so good. Nintendo is unlikely to get upset – or to demand royalties – if someone helps to spread the knowledge of its top franchise without making a profit from it.

However, the first issue arises when other designers take Flowalistik’s Pokemon and “remix” them to make their own product that they then subsequently sell on other online design marketplaces, in spite of (or purposely ignoring) the non-commercial aspects of the CC license.

“I share my designs for free,” said Agustin, “because it’s the only way I can be sure it will reach every corner of the world. I also publish them under CC license, and I allow people to remix my designs. In the recent Shapeways case someone first remixed my Bulbasaur model, and then two more people remixed the previously remixed model.”

“In this transition – Agustin continued – someone forgot to read the license and didn’t include the non-commercial part. Someone then saw an opportunity and started selling the remix of the original model. This Nintendo issue was the latest one, although I’ve already had to ask five people to stop selling my designs (remixed or not). Just a month ago I received an email from someone in New Delhi telling me someone was selling one of my designs, a Charmander Pokemon.”

The bottom line here, both Agustin and I agreed, is that Nintendo will likely not get upset until the corporate monolith begins to see the sales of its Pokemon products decline. If that were to ever happen, and at the same time as consumer 3D printing continues to grow — particularly at the current exponential rate — Nintendo might blame the spread of 3D printable designs and then choose to take action.

If that happened it will be up to the lawyers and the courts to figure out exactly who is responsible for what and how. Of course the global character of the 3D printing industry will make this issue even more complicated, so complicated, in fact, that it may have no clear solution. What will likely happen is that Nintendo will have to offer a 3D printing service superior to anything created by the single users. Or they may choose to just let it be, as they currently do on 2D Pokemon inspired designs for sale online (although, personally, I strongly doubt it).

The reason why Nintendo might have to be one of the first companies to face this issue, is that its Pokemon brand, unlike Lego or Hasbro products, are actually based on very simple designs that can be easily replicated by users. Their strength and universal appeal is in their simplicity and that makes them perfect for consumer 3D printing and design.

This is only the first part of it. Agustin is concerned about Nintendo’s policy because one of his designs has been chosen for a design contest on Pinshape. The online network sells the 3D printed objects based on the models submitted for the contest although, according to Agustin, the designers don’t receive a payment for it, rather, they gain visibility. Although this may also be a rather minor concern at this point for Nintendo, the top three designs (and the Pokemon will likely be among them) will be featured on Amazon’s store. Then, with the augmented reach of the eCommerce giant, Nintendo may become considerably more concerned.

Both I and Agustin contacted Nintendo to try to get an answer from the company on their policy. Surprisingly they replied and the answer is not as “boring and vague” as we had expected. Nintendo is very interested, and surprisingly open, to 3D printing. We did ask them to elaborate some more and we will publish their answer in the following days.

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Posted on January 20, 2015
D.I.Y.

By Scott J Grunewald | 3D Printing Industry