Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp 1285–1297 | Cite as

The Risks of Revolution: Ethical Dilemmas in 3D Printing from a US Perspective

  • Erica L. Neely
Original Paper


Additive manufacturing has spread widely over the past decade, especially with the availability of home 3D printers. In the future, many items may be manufactured at home, which raises two ethical issues. First, there are questions of safety. Our current safety regulations depend on centralized manufacturing assumptions; they will be difficult to enforce on this new model of manufacturing. Using current US law as an example, I argue that consumers are not capable of fully assessing all relevant risks and thus continue to require protection; any regulation will likely apply to plans, however, not physical objects. Second, there are intellectual property issues. In combination with a 3D scanner, it is now possible to scan items and print copies; many items are not protected from this by current intellectual property laws. I argue that these laws are ethically sufficient. Patent exists to protect what is innovative; the rest is properly not protected. Intellectual property rests on the notion of creativity, but what counts as creative changes with the rise of new technologies.


3D printing Additive manufacturing (AM) Ethics of technology Intellectual property Safety 



A version of this paper was presented at the CEPE/ETHICOMP 2014 meeting in Paris, France. I am grateful for the helpful comments received by people present at that presentation, as well as the peer reviewers and editor of this journal. My thanks also to Clif Flynt, Rebecca Newman, and Bill Roper for answering certain questions on engineering practice.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical impact statements

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and ReligionOhio Northern UniversityAdaUSA

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