Money & Business

3D Teeth Rendering Case Could Have Big Digital Impact, Groups Say

By / Apr 15, 2015 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Both digital rights advocates and trade groups see a U.S. International Trade Commission case blocking the sharing of 3D renderings of teeth as potentially having a broad effect—in either good ways or bad. The commission, however, denies the case is about anything more than a few pearly whites.

Can you share 3D renderings of teeth through the cloud? That’s an odd question with a surprisingly loaded answer.

The Pakistani operations of a U.S. dental company, ClearCorrect, hoped to upload 3D teeth renderings of its patients and send instructional information to the company’s servers based in Texas.

But the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) blocked the effort, saying the technology infringes on an existing patent of another American company, Align Technology.

Digital rights advocates, however, aren’t buying that explanation. Several organizations and scholars have banded together to challenge the USITC decision. Among them are a number of associations, including the American Library Association, Association of College and Research Libraries, Association of Research Libraries, and the Computer and Communications Industry Association.

They are joined by advocacy groups, such as Public Knowledge, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Fight for the Future, Free Press, and Internet Archive, as well as 12 academic scholars.

Digital Versus Physical

The case raises interesting questions on the exchange of digital goods through the cloud. While Align Technology has a patent on Invisalign plastic braces, critics note that ClearCorrect isn’t actually importing plastic braces—it’s simply transferring 3D renderings over the internet.

The coalition is questioning whether USITC can block digital goods, in addition to physical ones, from being imported to the United States, which it notes could mean greater restrictions on development of digital technology.

“The decision has enormous ramifications, opening the door to Internet content blocking efforts rejected by Congress and the public,” the groups wrote in their letter to USITC.

Public Knowledge and the EFF also suggested in an amicus brief filed in the case that USITC is treating “data transmissions as imported articles, rais[ing] real and unanswered questions about the enforcement role that such [internet] service providers will play.”

Good News for Content Creators?

The movie and music industries, as they often do in these kinds of cases, see things differently.

The Hollywood Reporter notes that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) both submitted amicus briefs of their own in the case.

MPAA suggests that, as a possible consequence,the commission could force internet service providers “to actively block transmission of certain content.”

RIAA, meanwhile, noted that “electronic transmission is the mode by which most unauthorized copyrighted works are imported into the United States.”

If the USITC decision is seen to apply in other contexts, it could mean an upper hand for these groups addressing copyright law beyond borders.

What the Commission Says

While digital rights groups are fearful of the commission imposing future restrictions on the swapping of ideas, creations, and work over the internet, USITC denies that any ulterior motives are at play.

“This is a case about teeth,” it said in a statement in response to concerns over internet limitations. “This is not a case that burdens [i]nternet service providers and it is not a case that threatens to bring down the [i]nternet.”

Patrick deHahn

Patrick deHahn is a contributor to Associations Now. More »

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