Optical illusion inventor goes on to invent copyright threats against 3D printing company

Yesterday, I blogged about Artur Tchoukanov, who figured out how to make a 3D printed "impossible" Penrose triangle. Turned out I didn't have the details quite right. The guy who came up with the 3D design in Thingiverse had made it after seeing someone else's model for the same thing on Shapeways, and he'd made the triangle design to show that he'd figured out how the trick was done.

The person who invented this way of inventing this 3D Penrose Triangle was Ulrich Schwanitz, who sent me some emails asking me to correct my post (which I did as soon as I got back to my laptop after a day at a conference), but he sent a much more substantial email to Thingiverse, a service that hosts 3D models: in this email, Mr Schwanitz accused Tchoukanov of violating his copyright and demanded that the model be removed from the Internet in accord with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

In so doing, Mr Schwanitz has become the first person in history to threaten Thingiverse with a copyright lawsuit.

Copyright and Intellectual Property Policy


    1. Can you copyright a shape?

      Why not? What is a sculpture? A shape? A work of art?

      I never thought you could copyright a number but it’s done routinely now. Has to be a big enough number though. About say a few K Bytes of digits – a digitised article – a digitised book – a digitised song.

      Just like in other places people digitise things, some shapes are in the public domain. That’d include squares and cubes, balloon dogs, archimedian solids, the shape of Paris Hilton etc.

    2. You can copyright an execution of a shape, potentially.

      However, I kind of doubt you can copyright a shape that you admit was created by a prior world famous artist, and then waggle your dick around in their courts trying to protect it, without being laughed at.

      His claim is no stronger than me trying to copyright a method of producing 4’33” visually. It’s someone else’s art, and he can go fuck himself if he thinks changing mediums grants it fresh copyright and transfers ownership to him.

      Magic-minded nonsense.

  1. This is absurd and shows just how overpowerful the DMCA is, where one lone douche can basically force a website top comply with no burden of legal process or proof.

  2. Advice_Network – if you can’t then I want to take the current top 10 movies, encode them into geometric shapes at the nanotech scale and then distribute copies of those shapes.

    I suppose legally you can copyright anything with sufficient creative work put into it.

  3. Don’t call him an “inventor” until he’s at least granted a patent.

    Tchoukanov should release his 3D model file as CC-BY-SA or something so we can all upload a copy and play whack-a-mole

  4. I’d like to announce my copyright on the generalized shape and all deviations of the human body. Yeah, you all owe me a lot of money.

  5. Why is the US losing ground economically and creatively? Could a nation crippled by abusive copyright and patent laws have anything to do with it?

  6. This is actually very much in the Penrose tradition. Roger Penrose, notably, tried to sue the makers of Teflon for using ideas he put forth in a paper about infinite non-repeating tile patterns.

  7. Wait … a copyright on a model of a penrose triangle? I designed one of those back in 1985 using Catia. If only I could prove it.

  8. Just for fun, what would happen if you copy a frisbee which is a modified discus with the 3d printer? Could you get sued?

  9. Why are people so outraged. He admittedly copied the design. This is open and shut case. Was the shape licensed such that it was allowed to make a derivative of it? No. Was he allowed to make an exact copy? No.

    Just because it was a model inspired by a the known Penrose triangle doens’t make it ok for any sap to just make an exact copy and submit it under another license. When developers make exact game clones, we all cry foul, but suddenly because thingiverse is cool, and we love free licenses we are lamasting this designer for trying to protect his design.

    “In so doing, Mr Schwanitz has become the first person in history to threaten Thingiverse with a copyright lawsuit.”
    That is a lie. He made no threats, and the takedown notice was very standard stuff. He wrote:
    Where the material was, which copyright it was infringing, who owned the copyright and what the material was.

  10. Captain obvious, but Copyright in the US is so fucking ridiculously broken and convoluted to begin with it will be a whole lot of un-fun watching how ever cheaper 3D printing fusses with the dynamic.

  11. You have to love the humor of this case. People are claiming that prior art exists…. but the supposedly prior art is a physically impossible object.

    The Penrose triangle does not exist as a physical object.
    This model isn’t a Penrose triangle.

    His model is a cleaver shape which resembles a 2D projection of a Penrose triangle when viewed from the right angle. If people are seriously claiming that the Penrose triangle is prior art, then you couldn’t have Apple holding rights over their Macbooks design because it resembles a square when view from the right angle.

    Also I like the boing boing angle. Yesterday this was “cunning 3D design” today is a trivial copy of a well known shape that no one should have the right to call theirs!

    1. It’s not so much that this is an unauthorized reproduction of another’s work. It’s that this is the introduction of copyright/patent trolls into a technology that had the potential to be so disruptive. Imagine a machine that could make replacement parts for your broken PS3 controller.. Well, perhaps now Sony can exercise some form of copyright over the shape needed to fix your broken purchase. And so on. Amazon got patents for one-click purchases. Some fool got patents for utilizing a swing sideways. Perhaps patents or copyright on squres, trapezoids and spheres won’t be granted, but you can be sure that some absurdly intuitive ones will, given prior history. And you can be sure someone with an inflated sense of entitlement will try and get paid for theit losses in court. It is sad; not because it is unexpected, but because this douchebag is just the begining of the end for this new and exciting technology.

  12. Very curious.

    I’m not sure about other countries, but in Australia there are companies which make copies of various car parts which are interchangeable with those produced by the original manufacturer.

    I’d be curious as to whether they would have to pay a fee of any form?

    Furthermore, there are companies which make parts for various game consoles. The parts, such as controllers, as much cheaper than the originals. I wonder if they also have to pay a fee of some form?

    Just curious really. For those who write back, just remember that Australia has very different laws to the USA.

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