Ever since I read Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, I’ve been wondering what would happen when anyone could download a set of plans and print their own, for example, Star Wars toys. And more to the point, what would happen when those plans could be pirated.
Anything digital can easily be copied; the Internet is one huge digital copy machine. And anything that people want will be copied. There’s no effective way to prevent or police it, and I doubt there every can be. LucasFilm made a fortune on the Star Wars films, but (as I understand it) many times that on cheaply-made plastic toys from them — I had several myself when I was a kid. Lego continues to make money hand over fist, for a product that anyone with a RepRap could churn out by the thousands without thinking.
That sort of thing simply couldn’t happen in an age where anyone can download free (official, stolen, or knockoff) plans, or create their own, and have their own home 3D printer create whatever it is they want. Right now the products from such devices look pretty crude, but it wouldn’t take much interest from the masses to drive their creators to improve them.
When they do… well, life is going to be interesting for the Lego Corporation and any would-be LucasFilms.