Have you ever been robbed? It’s an awful feeling in itself, but now imagine that the thief then has the audacity to start selling your property over and over again as if it’s their own. Sounds ridiculous, right? Well that’s exactly what happens in the world of intellectual property, including 3D models. Plenty of designers are upset to find out that people take credit for and even profit from their work without permission. The worst thing is that in most cases, designers will never even know if and where their models are being sold online. A common setting for this to occur is when freelance designers upload their models on marketplaces, where someone buys them and proceeds to resell them on other platforms. Such malicious users aren’t bothered by the consequences because of certain gaps in legislation. As a result, designers that have spent countless hours making their 3D models lose out on potential earnings and authorship. Many companies also take a risk by sending out exclusive 3D files for quoting and manufacturing. So, what can they do? We suggest embedding a hidden watermark in files and being able to track its distribution online. The patent is still pending, but the technology is already available on www.watermark3d.com

“Watermark 3D” vs copyright violation

To solve the problem of copyright violation, we developed a two-stage digital watermarking system, that includes watermarking a 3D model and then tracking it online.

Watermarking the 3D model

Watermark 3D is a free software application used to embed unique information into a 3D model and protected by a password. The watermark is practically invisible, leaving no visual or structural changes that are revealed on the materialized object (at this stage, only STL files are supported but we are working on including other formats as well). The only way the watermark can be detected is by uploading the file to watermark3D.com and entering the user-created password. If the password is correct, the watermark can be detected and the concealed information inside the file can reveal the owner of the intellectual property and its origins without malicious users being aware of it.

Tracking watermarked files

After applying a watermark to a 3D model, it can be tracked via several ways. As mentioned earlier, anyone can use the website to upload and detect watermarks manually. However, we are also developing a system that can track and automatically notify the author of the watermark when their file appears on a website to indicate the legal and illegal distribution of the file. Nevertheless, the system already works perfectly for those who want to protect the 3D model before giving access to someone. Imagine that a designer distributes a file using a number of different channels. In this case, they can place a unique watermark each time they send the file to a customer, a manufacturer or marketplace. Then, if the model is found to be distributed online illegally, they should be able to trace the source back to the culprit and use this as grounds to file a claim.

Thanks to the help and valuable feedback from the 3D designing community, we’ve managed to improve Watermark 3D. Even without a password, the watermark cannot be changed or overwritten once it’s been applied.

How can marketplaces use Watermark 3D?

Treatstock, an online manufacturing marketplace, is already using Watermark 3D to automatically insert unique watermarks on files sent to different manufacturers on the site. So, if the files are found to be distributed illegally, Treatstock can understand which manufacturer was responsible for the infringement of copyright and take legal action if required. Similarly, other marketplaces can implement Watermark 3D to control the distribution of files uploaded to their platform. We are currently in talks with some of the largest 3D file marketplaces about integrating Watermark 3D into their platform and encourage all platforms who are interested to contact us to find a solution tailored to them.

Is Watermark 3D the complete solution to copyright violation?

Without a doubt, Watermark 3D is a big step towards compliance with copyright in the world of 3D designing and can help authors to protect their intellectual property from malicious users. However, the key to success lies in the cooperation with other market players and to achieve consistency across the board, as well as the further development and improvement of tools such as Watermark 3D available to owners of intellectual property.

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