Dangerous ideas: controlling design files for illegal objects

Paul Raven @ 14-05-2010

Here’s an interesting question for a future full of fabrication devices: if it’s illegal to own a certain object, is it also illegal to own the design files that would enable you to print out that object?

Fabbaloo asks the question after noticing some enterprising member of the counterculture thought of a great market for customisable designs in 3d-printed plastics – namely bong-lovin’ weed smokers.

We know that possession of “drug paraphernalia” is considered illegal in some jurisdictions. But would possession of The Design be considered illegal?

When we’re in a world where we can (relatively) instantly produce any object ourselves, is it the actual object that counts or the design? We like to think that’s the case for run-of-the-mill objects, since it’s not the printing goop that’s important; goop becomes commodity and the design rules.

Will our repositories be searched for the presence of “illegal objects”? Will repository operators ask submitters to delete suspected items for fear of the authorities? Will questionable content migrate from public repositories into private libraries run by secret cabals?

The simple answer, I’d suggest, is “yes”: nation-states will almost certainly try to outlaw or control ownership and/or access to design files for objects with potentially criminal uses. (The bong is a rather mundane example, as it facilitates a victimless crime; however, that’s not so clearly the case with a hundgun made almost entirely from plastics.)

Of course, az eny fule no, controlling the distribution of entirely digital data (especially files of small size) is something that nation-states and corporations alike are struggling to do even now. Which suggests that 3D printing itself will become the target of legislation; if you can’t control the draft, your best bet is to close the door tight.

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6 Responses to “Dangerous ideas: controlling design files for illegal objects”

  1. Evil Rocks says:

    Jail is for dumb lawbreakers. Remember to encrypt your drives, clandestinely back them up remotely, and set the ones you use regularly to self-wipe if your security perimeter is breached and the remotes to self-wipe if *their* perimeter is breached. Also, keep your music library on ANOTHER drive so that you don’t have to wipe the media collection to save your ass from the datacrime police. Copyright violations are a lot less serious than fabrication of illegal hardware violations. One’s a civil suit, the other a felony (or will be soon).

  2. Leadhyena says:

    Why stop at drug paraphenalia? What stops someone from printing a gun?

  3. Evil Rocks says:

    With the right ceramics and a 3D printer, Leadhyena’s idea would make a neat undergraduate engineering senior project. Liberals who believe fervently in both gun control and stealing movies off the internet will have to reconcile their desire for liberty of information with their desire to drive the crime rate down through state intervention in everyday life.

    There’s an interesting equilibrium between the costs of shipping guns and the costs of manufacturing guns. It appears to be stable right now because of the high costs of designing firearms and the investment costs of a 3D printer of reasonable accuracy that can handle the right materials, but as the “3d printing revolution” infects every nook and cranny of industrial life I would bet on that equilibrium point shifting in favor of printing guns where they’re needed. Hopefully the Mexican cartels don’t figure this out before we get our panopticon up and running. WAITAMINNIT!

    I like the idea of a plastics gun. It would probably have ass-nasty recoil and not have a significant lifetime-in-use but it would probably be able to hold out for a couple of firefights if you used a phenolic liner in the barrel or something smart like that.

  4. csven says:

    Back when I was thinking about direct digital manufactured weapons and the broader ramifications of them ( http://blog.rebang.com/?p=998 ), one of the more obvious questions which came to my mind was whether or not a transreality sex toy (which is a small leap from the virtual world doppelgangers already connected to tangible devices) would be an issue for states in which the sale of “adult toys” are banned.

    So, for example, would the virtual version of a vibrator purchased online by someone living in Alabama (U.S.) be illegal if a) they could 3D print their own toy from the file, and/or b) the tangible version fabricated in another state using the virtual version’s 3D files was being electronically controlled remotely by the person living in Alabama?

    As virtual and tangible become increasingly intertwined, it would seem some laws will potentially become outdated.

  5. Evil Rocks says:

    Juris-dick-tion may erode over some domains…

  6. Graeme Mulvaney says:

    You should have at the work of Sol LeWitt – well not so much the work – look at how he got his stuff into galleries. Conceptual artists nailed this one back in the 1950’s.