3D Printing of Restricted Keys

The controls around the supply of restricted keys have served the locksmithing industry very well for many years. They have also provided the many thousands of our Members’ clients with restricted keying systems the peace of mind that they have control over who has keys, and who can obtain keys. The Association’s Code of Ethics and the Association’s By-Laws have provided consumers with an additional level of comfort.

Improvements in 3D printing technology, the ability to use materials such as brass, and the lower costs to enter the market, are changing the landscape and threatening these long-established controls.

Following a tip from one of our Victorian Business Members, we were alerted to the website of a watch and shoe repair business based in Melbourne’s CBD. This business is offering to provide copies of restricted keys and security keys, and it specifically mentions keys stamped:

      • Do Not Copy
      • Restricted Blank
      • Do Not Duplicate

To have a look at their website, please go to: www.fobcopy.com.au/restricted-keys.html

A little over a week ago, we decided to try and get a DC-1B key copied. We emailed a picture of the key to the business. We then received a return email advising us that the key could be copied, but we would need to make an appointment to drop the key into the shop (supposedly due to COVID-19), we would need to wait around 30 minutes, and the payment terms were cash only. So we made an appointment and dropped the key off. The process only took 15 minutes, we paid the $100, and we had our duplicated key. The person producing the key said words to the effect “isn’t this better than waiting 3 weeks for a key from your Strata Manager“. He offered to replace the key if it did not work, and he pointed out that the material he used to make the key (brass) was a little softer than the material used to make the original key. He stated that he used a 3D printer to produce the copy, although the 3D printer was not visible from the front counter of the shop.

The key produced by this 3D printer, as well as the original key, cylinder assembly and the receipt, is pictured below:

The duplicate key did open our DC-1 cylinder, and while it was a little “sloppy” and it did not look that great, it did the job it was meant to do.

Interestingly, the key head on the copied key is the generic head used for all the raw blanks this business uses to produce 3D printed keys. We had suspected they might try and copy our trademarked J head, but this would require more time to 3D print as the raw blank would need to be much wider.

Legal advice is currently being sought. The DC-1 profile is still covered by design registration, but the reality is that if this business copies a J series key, or any other key not covered by design registration or patent, there is nothing legally that can be done.

This does have ramifications for our industry, but if we can take something positive out of this situation, it may help Business Members in their efforts to get their clients to regularly upgrade their keying systems to something that is still protected by design registration and/or patent, or something than cannot be copied using a 3D printer.

Regards,
Peter Johnson
CEO, Master Locksmiths Association of Australasia

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