22 February 2013

Property Rights, Patents, and the Destruction of the Market for "Collectables", or , 3D Printing Series Part 4

Another possible economic implication of 3D printing technology that I have been pondering today:  It is quite likely that 3D printing machines will (and already are) be (ing) used to circumvent many copyrights and reproduce protected/patented commodities.

One area that could be particularly hard hit is the market for "collectables".  This includes things such as vintage children's toys, "limited edition" figurines, etc.  As any collector knows, secondary markets for these types of goods can vastly inflate the price above the original "sticker". 

I will not get into the whole "transformation problem" debate here, or suggest that the secondary market prices are in any way (except of course a vague and complex overdetermined way) representative of the value of these goods.  Rather I will back up my point with an example: A search of EBay for "Star Wars Action Figure" followed by a sort of highest price to lowest shows numerous "toys" with active bids priced in the thousands of US dollars. 

These markets rely upon collectibility and extreme scarcity, artificially perceived or real, to keep  prices at these high levels. In the world of 3D printing I would imagine it is pretty easy to write a program to "print" a "vintage Yoda figurine" still in what appears to be original packaging. 

Just as digital media has faced extreme problems in protecting copyrights of commodities that can be easily reproduced at low cost by a vast number of people, I would imagine that 3D printing technology will begin to present the same problem to suppliers in many other markets over the next few years (the case of collectable toys given here is just one example). 

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