Answer: theoretically, but probably not.
On /r/PCMasterRace, a user has pointed out that modders using 3DS Max would need to pay for a commercial license in order to legally sell their product — a side effect that hasn’t yet been thoroughly discussed. This comes on the heels of wave after wave of criticism regarding Steam’s new paid mod category on Steam Workshop.
Here are the big points, but don’t come to any conclusions just yet:
- Most modders use either 3DS Max, Maya or Blender.
- Many on 3DS Max are using student versions of the software.
- The 3DS Max student version prohibits the commercial sale of items.
- 3DS Max student version models are watermarked and trackable.
- Maximum penalties can be five years in prison or $250,000 in fines.
On the 3DS Max website:
- Using counterfeit software may lead to civil penalties and criminal prosecution.
Okay, yeah — but what’s the actual risk? As users have noted, though the student version leaves a watermark, the pirated version doesn’t — and models can be run through another program to strip them out, anyway. But that aside, realistically, will Autodesk even try to go after modders — many of which will be making literally dollars worth of profit?
While the five years in prison or $250,000 in fines amount is bandied out, that’s the maximum penalty a person can face for an act of copyright infringement. It’s not the penalty an individual making mods is likely to face. Copyright infringement governs huge areas, including people actually selling copyrighted software.
Additionally, because people can be charged for copyright infringement “even when there is no monetary profit or commercial benefit from the infringement,” those who are using pirated copies — not student copies — are still in basically the same position they always were.
In fact, it’s widely known that 2D and 3D design software is relentlessly pirated by students and hobbyists. The vast majority of money made by these companies is through corporate licensing. By ensuring that hobbyists and students become well-versed in 3DS Max and similar products, they ensure that large studios will purchase licenses. That’s not to say that stealing isn’t wrong — it’s merely to say that they are more than aware the theft is going on and that there’s a reason why prosecution hasn’t been prioritized.
With all that being said, the ethics of it are fairly clear: you cannot produce commercial works with the student version of 3DS Max (and certainly not the pirated version). Modders who are currently working in 3DS Max Student version would need to switch to Blender or another free alternative, should they want to keep their karma positive and sell their products at the same time.