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If a customer sends me a non-commercial 3D model to print, am I allowed to charge money for the 3D printing process? I understand I cannot charge anything for the model nor offer it as a part of my business.

I cannot download the model myself, print and sell it, but if the customer downloads it and sends it to me for me to print it, is it a violation of the license or not?

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  • $\begingroup$ Consider looking for alternatives or recreating the object from scratch - designers who license their creations as "non-commercial" or - even worse - "no derivates" should not be supported, whether you end up taking money for the print or not. $\endgroup$
    – towe
    Jul 10 '19 at 8:49
  • $\begingroup$ How different is what you are wanting to do from 3D print services? $\endgroup$
    – Perry Webb
    Jul 10 '19 at 9:05
  • $\begingroup$ Very difficult to answer, what if your customer prints it on your machines himself by hiring 3D Printer time (and actually print himself by sending it to the printer), would he violate the legal license restriction... $\endgroup$
    – 0scar
    Jul 10 '19 at 9:05
  • $\begingroup$ @0scar that would be not commercial for the customer, who has the model. He acquires a printer for some time. you printing for someone is him acquiring an expert and a printer for some time... $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Jul 10 '19 at 9:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Trish The question I posed was meant rhetorical. What I meant to say is that this is very difficult, if you hire 3D printing time, also profit for the company is in the hiring price, you would be printing yourself, but the outcome and price identical to being printed by the 3D print service... $\endgroup$
    – 0scar
    Jul 10 '19 at 9:41
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I agree that intellectual property is complex. I am not a lawyer, but have been in the middle of patent and copyright actions.

In my non-legal opinion, you are providing a printing service for which you are free to charge your customer whatever you agree on. You are not responsible for the disposition of the resulting objects. You do not know how your customer intends to use them. They may be using them for commercial or non-commercial activities. They may have a license to use them in a way that is unknown to you, and, again IMO, they have no obligation to disclose their relationship with the IP holder. That license could be part of their trade advantage.

If the customer asks you to work with the design to make changes, and the license prohibits derivative works, I would be careful.

Never-the-less, the smell test always applies. If it seems to be illegal, unethical, or immoral, you might choose to forgo the customer and avoid any possibility of being tainted by their activities, if it should turn out that they are behaving badly.

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  • $\begingroup$ I do not intend to participate in a large production of models or anything "smelly" nor I don't want to make derivative works. I just want to know, if I am allowed to charge money for the printing (material, printing time,...) when someone comes to me and asks me to print a non-commercial model they found on the internet that they like. The way you have put it suggests it should be legal as long as other conditions are fulfilled. $\endgroup$
    – MStarha
    Jul 11 '19 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ I am not a lawyer. I would feel comfortable print a non-commercial design under one-off conditions and charging a fair fee for doing so. You are charging for the printing service, not for the object or the design. In case I forgot to mention, I am not a lawyer. $\endgroup$
    – cmm
    Jul 11 '19 at 13:45
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Intellectual property law is complex, so you might want to consider getting proper legal advice. However, to respect the original designer's intent you need to look at what their license permits and try not to find a loophole in the process. There is nothing to stop you asking the designer (in public or private) to clarify their intent.

The biggest 'non-commercial' restriction reason is to protect the design idea, and stop someone mass-producing a clever design for profit. This applies irrespective of the original designer's intent to monetise their work.

Another big reason might be to 'hold back' the time invested in the design. Maybe the designer wants to share something they spent a lot of time on, for individuals to appreciate rather than profit from. The designer would presumably gain reputation as a result of wider knowledge of their work.

Sometimes, a design inherits licensing restrictions from a 3rd party (even maybe from the design tools used). For example, Fusion360 can be used for free by small companies, students, or for hobbies and personal learning, but has restrictions on commercial, professional or for-profit use. In that case, you would need to ask clarification from the tool provider.

The case you describe is complicated. You can't sell the printed part, but a 3rd party can probably contract you to print the part (or rent time/access to a printer). However, your contract rate can't include any element of value derived from the model. Assuming there is no explicit license condition, you should be OK if you charge for your direct costs. As soon as you include time, profit, or any modification to the model, you are on less solid ground.

To consider a non-obvious use-case of the Fusion 360 license, a student may well not have their own printer (particularly for an exotic material, or living in university accommodation). Can they contract a fabrication company to commercially produce or evaluate their model for the purposes of education or not?

I don't expect you will find a definitive answer to this question since there are too many variables. Creative Commons have a page about their Non Commercial license which identifies some things to consider when you interpret a license.

As noted in the comments, you can divide your time and professional contribution (and thus billable items) into several steps. By providing a model, the customer skips step 1:

  • making the digital model
  • preproduction (slicing)
  • printing
  • postproduction (cleaning off support)

A clear license would refer to all of these.

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  • $\begingroup$ An option would be to contact the designer and try to resolve this, maybe a small fee which you impose onto the direct operating costs can be paid to the developer. I wonder how current 3D printing services deal with this (not the community ones, but regular businesses). $\endgroup$
    – 0scar
    Jul 10 '19 at 9:07
  • $\begingroup$ As a side note: the free licenses of F360 are not limited in any way. $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Jul 10 '19 at 9:37
  • $\begingroup$ Seeing this just confirms my worries that the answer to this question depends on the interpretation. I have some lawers in the family so better to ask them. I hesitate because I think they are more familiar with local laws rather than international. $\endgroup$
    – MStarha
    Jul 10 '19 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ The conditions on the software that the model creator used to create it have no bearing on anything you do with it. The software publisher has no relationship with you and no claim to copyright over the model. It's remotely plausible that the software publisher could have a legal claim against the model creator on the basis that they way they licensed it to you was contrary to a contract between them, but this doesn't invalidate the license or have any bearing on you, and seems unlikely anyway as long as the creator is not themselves deriving some sort of compensation from the arrangement. $\endgroup$ Jul 11 '19 at 3:02
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    $\begingroup$ I was following up my own comment above not claiming your answer needs a disclaimer. $\endgroup$ Jul 11 '19 at 13:36

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