National Public Radio (NPR) has scanned and 3D printed a correspondent and broadcast a story about it that also includes coverage of potential copyright issues. 

In Madrid, Manctl co-founder Nicolas Burrus used a camera to scan a detailed 3D model of correspondent Lauren Frayer in just a few minutes and emailed the file to Steve Henn, Frayer’s NPR colleague. The next day, nearly 6,000 miles away, Mr. Henn walked into TechShop in Menlo Park, Calif., borrowed its MakerBot 3-D printer, and printed out NPR’s very first action figure.      

Not long ago, a 3-D scanner that could create accurate digital models of objects in the real world cost more than $10,000, writes Henn for NPR. Then, Microsoft released the Kinect, the video game controller that allows users to play games by just waving their hands. 

"But it turned out that the Kinect was actually much more than that — it was a 3-D camera but one-hundredth of the price," Manctl’s Burrus tells Henn. “We knew that this could change everything because anyone could just start scanning."

Burrus was working on computer vision research when the video-game system technology came out, according to Henn. Not long after, Burrus’ company introduced Skanect software that morphs Microsoft’s Kinect for XBOX, Kinect for Windows or Asus Primesense into a cheap, high-quality 3-D scanner. 

Clay Lambert, who runs the Menlo Park TechShop that 3D printed Frayer’s likeness, tells Henn that making perfect copies of physical items has never been easier. “We are at the point now with physical objects that we were at with MP3s a decade ago,” he says. 

The NPR story segues from the marvel of modern scanning and 3D printing into potential intellectual property problems, quoting Michael Weinberg, a lawyer at Public Knowledge who recently published his second white paper about copyright and 3D printing. 

Weinberg cites Moulinsart, which owns the rights to the cartoon Tintin, and served Thingiverse with an DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notice. He tells NPR that Moulinsart was well within its legal rights, but he thinks the action was a mistake because people printing out copies of Tintin’s rocket were the company’s mega-fans. Instead of attacking them, the company would have been better off selling digital designs to print out Tintin himself, according to Weinberg.  

"The technology is coming whether we like it or not," Weinberg tells NPR. "And so, as a CEO of one of these companies, you can spend a lot of time and money trying to sue it out of existence — and sue the genie back into the bottle — or you can spend that same time and money and apply it toward finding a way to use the technology to your advantage."