Why would Kickstarter approve a Makerbot Replicator clone project?

makerbot replicator

The real Makerbot Replicator

If you haven’t heard yet, there’s quite a row going on over a new Kickstarter project. It’s put up by a Matt Strong, and his project is titled, “The TangiBot 3D Printer – the affordable Makerbot Replicator.” It’s set off a firestorm of controversy, and most people seem to be lined up against what Strong is doing, which is overtly and admittedly planning on copying the Makerbot Replicator and then selling a clone.

But let’s step back for a moment, and look at Kickstarter, the premiere crowdfunding platform. What the hell are they doing letting this project on their site? I think they screwed up big time. And I’m a huge fan of Kickstarter, having featured numerous projects of theirs on these pages. The project seems to violate their mission statement. Here’s the first sentence in Kickstarter’s “What is Kickstarter” FAQ page:

Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects β€” everything from traditional forms of art (like theater and music) to contemporary forms (like design and games).

And that we’ve seen with just about every Kickstarter project. But, please Kickstarter, tell me, what exactly is creative about this project? What is innovative about copying? I know Kickstarter has plenty of rules one must follow, and they take a pass on a lot of projects, so why was this one let through?

Kickstarter is going to get a bad name from this. In my opinion, I thin they should admit their mistake, and do the right thing and close down the project immediately.

matt strong

Matt Strong: The Uninnovator

The good thing I don’t think that the project is going to fund anyway. The 3D printing community, and the Kickstarter community, are made of up ethical and decent people who respect the “rules” of open source. There’s no way this project is going to reach its funding goal of $500,000.

Those of you who are willing to hurt Makerbot, a company whose name is nearly synonymous with 3D printing, just to save a few hundred dollars: shame on you. And good luck to you as well: I certainly would not want to trust my money with someone who is willing to blatantly copy such a revered product. But that’s just me, call me old-fashioned.

I will not provide the link to the Kickstarter project, it doesn’t deserve the link. Instead, I’m going to make a link here to Makerbot, with the anchor text of “Makerbot Replicator clone.” Those of you who know a little SEO, understand that if enough of us do this, searches for Makerbot Replicator Clone will help put the real Makerbot page at the top of the search results page if someone searches for the clone. We can drive that search traffic directly to Makerbot instead of where it’s going now–the Kickstarter project page. Would any other websites out there like to do the same? Links from social media pages work as well.

As for the legalities of the project and ethics of Matt Strong, take a listen to this video from EEVblog:

To summarize his points:

1. Don’t clone. Innovate.
2. If you sell it, you support it.
3. Give the original author a cut
4. Respect the wishes of the original author
5. Don’t use the original authors name or project name

Support Makerbot.

  • D3

    I have to say: I disagree.

    RepRap encourage this.

    From the original RepRaps produced at the University of Bath, an increasingly broad range of 3Dp’s have evolved, from larger extrusion beds to brief-case sized fold-up portables.

    This is like saying ‘Samsung, you are producing smart-phones that rival or even better those that Apple are producing, for cheaper – stay out of the Market.’ Open source, or indeed Creative Common or any other flavour of communialism does not legally or morally infer that the product, service, data or knowledge that has been shared is not game for improvement, and, here’s the onus… recapitalisation.

    Ultimately open source 3D printing of 3D printers, crowd funding and open source products/ productables/ fabbables/ mapps (whatever we end up calling them) are the end of the era of mass production., perhaps of big-corporation capitalism, perhaps, if Roddenbury was visionary, money.

    BUT: The tech needs to evolve considerably first. Maketbot make great 3D printers – but they aren’t going to penetrate mass markets with a product that looks like a cardboard box, maxes two colours and two materials.

    If Matt Strong achieves one improvement he has created a distinct product. If he has created a cheap end version of an existing 3Dp, he has created a distinct product. Yes, it still looks awful, and awfully similar being the point, but the materials used are clearly substantially different (perhaps inferior?) to make that much of a production saving.

    Makerbot to 3Dp is not Apple as to CPU.

    Ponoko, DDD may be. RepRap style self-replication’s have real revolutionary potential, but that will require massive simplification of the system, which itself requires waiting for innovation in other areas of technology.

    And so the battle between Liaison-Faire Capitalism and Open Source Communialism (that’s nothing like autocratic Communism before we even go there!) begins…?

    I could of course be wrong on absolutely all of this – but I’d love to hear a debate on these issues, they may well define the economics of the 2020’s…

    • This is not an evolution. This is an exact copy. From the project page:

      The only difference between the TangiBot and the Makerbot Replicator is that the TangiBot is NOT made by Makerbot.

  • orest

    I disagree (at least partly – I agree with the “not innovative” part).
    The very essential idea of open-source is the right to create copies and modify the original desig – and the right to sell the copies.
    If nobody does that, then well – it’s opensource only on paper…

    This case is similar to forking a OS software project – and yes, that usually is controversial. But for OS hardware – how else you could execute your right to copy&modify ? You can’t really join the original development team… So what ? Shoul you silently make a single copy for yourseIf in your garage – and shut up ? Should making business based on selling copies be considered unethical ? This requires a wiser man than me…
    However, there is a precedence – Arduino. Could you compare this project to Arduino clones ?
    Another clue in open-source ethics is sharing – if you don’t share, you are a bad guy.

    This case may set the “ethical standard” for the opensource hardware. I suggest we keep open mind, but we should watch the development closely.

    • I never said he doesn’t have the right to do it, I said it in my opinion it’s unseemly. And to do so in such a blatant manner makes it even more distasteful.

      And if you notice, the title, and the main point of my article, is concerning why Kickstarter allowed the project. It goes against their mission statement. If I wanted to exactly duplicate another Kickstarter project, could I? Could 100 people do that? Of course they wouldn’t let those in. So why was this one approved? I could say traffic from obvious controversy to come, but that would be cynical. So better I just call it a mistake on their part, bad judgement.

      • orest

        Dear Mark,
        Hm ok – I can’t disagree with this. πŸ™‚
        The only innovative thing is to use china manufacturers – I am as well in doubt if that is enough (and whether it is a good step at all). You have touched in your article a very interesting subject – and I’d like to use this opportunity to ask some non-rhetorical questions:

        Here is a guy that takes the OS design and earns just by making the physical product, not innovating. This still requires quite some effort and knowhow (which I am lacking for instance, so I am happy if somebody does it instead of me). For OS software – anybody can download a final product with zero effort – so we cannot learn/conclude anything by comparing to software.

        Is it good or bad to have alternative manufacturers of opensource hardware ?
        For Prusa RepRap it is good – Jozef Prusa is not earning by having a webshop with repraps and he probably is happy that people appreciate and copy his design so much. And users benefit from this.
        For Makerbot it is not so good… – arguably Makerbot finances the development from their earnings hence the more money they have, the better for the users. Does that mean, that it is ethical to copy Prusa, but not Makerbot ? Strange conclusion, isn’t it ?

        Maybe it is the only way – to decide what is “ethical” case by case. No matter what the license says, I would consider it polite to ask the original authors for their blessing before starting to copy…

        • Brian Evans

          I think you are missing a key distinction here. It is perfectly acceptable for me to take the Prusa Mendel and re upload it as the *NEW* Brian Mendel with not a single change made to it. I could in fact open a webstore and sell the *NEW* RepRap Brian Mendel – “just like the Prusa Mendel but made by Brian” and Prusa doesnt benefit at all and again this is okay to do.

          It is however completely laughable. It does nothing positive for the community, the development of 3D printers as a whole, or the individual that buys the “just like a Prusa but not exactly”. In this case if you don’t want to pay the MakerBot price tag, then buy something else. There are plenty of Chinese vendors selling the very thing with low price tags and suitably low levels of support and reliability.

          Better yet, what about any number of other printers out there that are *better* and *less expensive* and support their own printers. $1299 buys you the new stainless steel and anodized aluminum M2 from MakerGear with a whopping 8x10x8 build volume. This printer is gorgeous, it is innovative, it is made by a company that has been around from the beginning of the DIY 3D printer movement that has given back to the community time and again (Rick is literally on IRC in his sleep). I own an M1 and it is fantastic and only wish I could buy an M2 today.

          I don’t care this printer is a ripoff of, the fact that it is a ripoff that adds absolutely nothing to the field is reason enough not to support it. Permission is not needed – it has already been expressly given in the license – and is irrelevant. I think it is the responsibility of the community to say, “you know what, we want something better for our money than just a blatant clone” or “we want to fund exciting and innovative projects with our limited funds” and not support the project.

          • orest

            I am not sure I am getting your point right.
            There are plenty of Prusa Mendel kits – original design, original name,
            then there are some with modified Prusa designs, named differently (e.g. Vision).
            TangiBot did not change the original design, but changed the name.
            Is this the smell of a bad fish ?

            I’d say – yes, it could be. In OS software it would be totally unacceptable – unless when the project is forking.

            But you could argue, that TangiBot is not unmodified – the production process changed with the aim of making it cheaper. That’s just as good as changing the design to reducing the costs. The difference is, that the details of the manufacturing and business (e.g. contacts to manufacturers, contract details) is not open.

      • theverant

        So maybe we should all just flood Kickstarter with Makerbot Replicator clone projects, so they take them all down?

        • I wonder if they would let me put up a project that is an exact replica of Kickstarter, and use the trademark Kickstarter as the title and in the marketing of it.

  • Mark,

    Very interesting article, I haven’t seen something so blatant like this just yet. I agree and I disagree at some points. Let me relate to this situation. I used to be active in a series of Military simulation games which involved a bunch of rifles that were essentially BB guns. Tokyo Mauri was THE brand to get. They made exceptional “rifles”. These rifles typically costed around $300 – $600. The “Mauri clone” were typically off brand rifles which had similar internals, but weren’t up to the same quality. These rifles cut corners to reduce pricing, but were entirely unique for that reason – despite being a “Mauri clone”. The Mauri clone usually costed from $120 – $200. Very solid for an entry level gun. Even though it used very similar internals & designs from the Tokyo Mauri brand, it lowered the cost and brought the sport to more people. Do I see a problem with it? Not really.

    The clones obviously cut corners to reduce cost, and you typically get what you pay for. Is there anything wrong with this? I don’t think so. The clone was an entirely different product, as it had to cut corners in many aspects. What if this guy could do it without cutting corners, making a printer more efficient for the public? I’d sooner consider that a “greater good,” if you will. Do you see where I’m coming from?

    I do disagree with using trademarks, and blatantly coming out like he did. Frankly, it’s kind of insulting. I’m not sure HOW open source Makerbot’s stuff is – I’d imagine there is a patent somewhere. I agree with taking good ideas and making them more efficient, but this was a little harsh. I love efficiency, but this is bad mannered to say the least. Long in short – I’m on the fence on this one. Very interesting read though Mark, great find.

    Cheers,
    -Waldo

  • Cadjunkie

    Let’s be real Mark if you are going to point the finger at Tangibot then you DEFINITELY have to point the finger at makerbot…all that makertbot and for that fact Reprap was take a companies expired patent and slap a new box around it. Stratasys FMD module is essentially what they are both based on, so I say let the hackers get hacked. I mean it’s at the level where there are 20 different “side clones of each other” machines on the market right now NONE of which can really provide the infrastructure needed for true consumer level quality of products..

    • I’m talking about cloning an exact replica, not building upon or using prior or existing technologies. I would be embarrassed to be Mr. Strong–it’s like the kid in class that looks over to the next desk and copies every answer from someone’s test paper. But note the headline of the article: it was titled to shame Kickstarter — that’s my primary point.

  • Cadjunkie

    First, Kickstarter is nothing more than a place to make money, it’s not some place that holds some type of benevolence about it. They are about capitalizing on opportunities that others put out there by providing a venue for sale. If they weren’t taking % out the back end then maybe you could say that they are doing it from the bottom of their good lil ole hearts.

    Second, you are choosing to draw a line in the sand to suit your needs. A copied pig or a redressed pig is still a pig. Things are copied everyday and sold for a lower price. Clothing, shoes, cars…etc. You would never say that your blog is copying others, yet I can point at least 10 other sites all talking about the exact same subject matters. 3D Printing. Sure you sometimes write your own opinion about a subject and then give a link to the site where you got it from, so at what point should real credit be given to the person that originally did the research get credit other than just point back? Shouldn’t they be mentioned in your article as the person who actually did the heavy lifting rather than just a footnote at the bottom?

    Strong is playing “the game” and a dam good one at that. I don’t care for either machine because they put out boat loads of low quality models and don’t offer proper support other than a pat on the back and a “hey, if it breaks it’s on you to fix it”. How does that make sense in any business? If you bought a $1700.00 computer or laser printer from HP or Apple, I bet you’d expect a certain level of service beyond just email or phone, you’d want to at least have some place that you could send it for repairs. And I know a lot of people who are pissed that they weren’t told up front that it’s totally on them to do repairs.

    There’s no separating what Strong has done to makerbot any more than what makerbot has done to stratasys. All makerbot did in the class is just change the color of the pen when they copied from the other kid in the class. REALLY!?!?

    • orest

      Fun to read, and I can see the point – but “what makerbot has done to stratasys” – that’s just ridiculous πŸ™‚
      Stratasys offers neither a makerbot like machine nor any other hobby-level 3d printer I am aware of.
      As for patents – I believe patents are not very helpful to mankind – anyway – if some patents expired, that is the game…

      • CadJunkie

        @orest: it can’t be both ways. Either all is open and fair game or patents are in place to prevent theft for a certain amount of time. It’s kind of hard to believe that you’d be “ok” with someone ripping off you’re million dollar idea and you’d be ok with it. If you’re going with the former then you can’t be pissed as what Strong did. If anything people will vote with their dollars and not purchase it if they really feel bad about him copying.

        If you notice in the original comment I referred to the technology inside. i.e. the extruder system used to melt the plastic is what’s not original in any of these machines. Stratasys came up with that.

        They do offer the mojo and uprint. Not a cheap but same “low end appeal”.

        • orest

          My problem with patents is, that it seems to be anything but fair.
          If you would not know anything about 3d printing and somebody would as you how to design a 3d printer, what would be your first idea ? Well, I have played with a glue gun a lot – extruder seems a natural design to me…

    • Sorry Cadjunkie, there’s no talking to you. You are ignoring everything I have written. When you can read what I have written and respond to that I can discuss it with you again.

  • Cadjunkie

    Let’s not leave out “While it is true that my project does not have any feature improvements it does contain manufacturing improvements. Feature improvements are very transparent and easy to identify. Manufacturing improvements are a little harder to identify. As long as the quality is maintained a really good indicator of significant manufacturing improvements is a reduction in the price of the product.” Matt Strong

    I’d ask if you take this same feeling of being on your “high horse” when you go to the supermarket and they sell you “clones” of products? or if you really feel this strongly about that the shirt and jeans you’re wearing, because the reality is they are just a knock off of something someone else did. It’s not some original design you have on. I don’t care for either company because they are both producing more waste. You want kickstarter to be something they aren’t, your perception vs what the reality is has a disconnect. They are there to make money as they have clearly shown by their actions….

    • “You want kickstarter to be something they aren’t, your perception vs what the reality is has a disconnect. ”

      You do know how to read, don’t you?

      Something they aren’t? Read their mission statement. That’s reality. You’re twisting is perception, your perception.

      You talk alot, but don’t read what others write.

      • Cadjunkie

        Mark, open your eyes man…their actions are in direct contradition with the statement. So, either you have to set aside and forget about what they put on paper or in some by law statement or mission statement. They are looking at it the same way Matt is, let’s capitalize on makebots “success” while we can.

        You’re are making an assumption that your criteria is how they should conduct themselves and I’m telling you that’s your first mistake. This altruistic sense of what’s “right” just got a swift kick in the rear by this thing called greed which is what, in the end, kickstarter is about. And quite frankly, it’s their company, their decision, and wagging your finger at them telling them “bad kickstarter” is not going to change a damn thing.

        You’re a good guy Mark, you want this not to be true, but if you can’t look at the action for what it is rather than what they say thir about, then yes, there is a disconnect.

        • orest

          Well, Cadjunkie, your cynicim might be well justified – nevertheless, not everybody has time and will to observe what some company is doing and to think about the connections and consequences. That’s why I appreciate Mark’s article, that points finger to an issue requiring attention. It’s tons of interesting projects on Kickstarter, so I believe in their mission. But now I’ll be more careful when they will talk about inovation πŸ™‚

          It’s up to the public – the backers – to demonstrate whether a project deserves funding. If a project is unethical in some way, we need clever writers to point it out and explain it, so that us, the mass of potential backers can make our qualified decision more easily. It makes more sense to be altruistic, if you are discouraged to behave differently. πŸ™‚

  • hellphish

    Seems to me that the innovation they are funding is the ability to make the (open source) Replicator at a cheaper price. There is nothing here against the spirit of open source, nor kickstarter. He isn’t pretending to create a new product while simply copying behind the scenes. He is upfront about what he is doing. His aim is to innovate the manufacturing process, not the design. It is clearly stated and not sneaky in the least.

  • Creating replica is not ethical business but in this project, this is not replication, there is only taking basic idea that how 3d printer works and on basis of that new customized product will be manufactured with some innovative modification which will make 3d printer more economical than original makerbot which cost approximate $2700. Kickstarter allowed this project because it is not about complete coping product. Aim of this project is to modify existing product for optimum use and decrease product price.