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I saw on the news at the gym early last week that somebody had created a 3D-printable gun. What I didn’t realize (perhaps because gym news does not come with sound) until the story broke about the State Department ordering the firm to pull the plans off the internet (which came to me from Betabeat via @memories_child) that they had indiscriminately released the blueprints to said 3D-printable weapon to anybody and everybody.

The thing that got me worked up enough to blog (when my disgust wouldn’t fit in a tweet) was the statement in the article that: “Mr. Wilson believes that he is immune to the Department of State’s review procedures as Defense Distributed is a nonprofit and the blueprints are protected under the public domain.”

Being a nonprofit does not make you exempt from anything but taxes, and certainly not arms control statutes. Neither does not violating copyright. Let’s work through how bad of an idea it was to release those blueprints to the whole world:

Yes, Americans are allowed to have guns, but there are lots of countries where it’s either outright illegal or highly regulated. It seems to me that Defense Distributed just broke all those jurisdictions’ laws once for each time the file was made available to someone in any of those places. Clearly the US wouldn’t extradite, but good luck to the DD folks on visiting much of the wealthy part of the world on vacation ever.

And then, there may be no national law about background checks, but there are, as discussed in my post about the Boston bombings, many state ones, which it seems to me have been broken once for each time the file was made available to someone in those places. The same is true of laws regulating sale to minors.

More broadly, many Americans may be allowed to transfer their guns to each other without a background check (40% of sales happen that way, according to the statistic floating around the internet—one example–plus informal transfers among family/friends), but Americans can’t as blithely transfer weapons to people in certain countries under laws about arms control. Defense Distributed just broke those laws too, once for each time the file was made available to someone in any of those places.

There are also international treaties about arms transfer. Defense Distributed has also broken those once for each time the file was made available to someone in a location covered by those treaties. Adding these all up, with 100,000 downloads they’re looking at thousands of years in jail were they ever prosecuted. (I don’t think they ever would be, but if it happened-)

Releasing the file indiscriminately was, in short, a demonstration of profound ignorance about implications. (Children left behind! This is such a failure of basic “critical thinking to see the big picture” that everybody should learn.)

Also, not incidentally, it’s an impressive act of American-centrism, assuming either that what is okay in this nation can and should go for everyone else also or that everyone on the Internet is American like themselves. It is therefore perhaps an important moment to consider the fact that just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.

Cody Wilson of DD noted that “the files are all over the Internet, the Pirate Bay has it– to think this can be stopped in any meaningful way is to misunderstand what the future of distributive technologies is about.” He’s right that this cat is out of the bag, which he terrifyingly describes as DD “winning”; now what is left for the consequences to come rolling in.

The first time someone commits a crime with a gun printed from DD’s plans, I would wager that they would potentially be liable, if not criminally than civilly—a person might not win that case, but it might not get tossed out of court immediately either.

Moreover, the ideology that sees complete, unfettered access to firearms as the divine right of Americans (and maybe humans generally) is often coupled with one that is ready to deny rights (including human rights) to anyone it classifies as “terrorist” (a term that gets thrown around quite loosely in this realm). I wonder, then, what people who hold such views will do the first time one of these shows up in the hands of a quote-unquote terrorist.

Will they advocate for the DD staff to be treated the same way as Bradley Manning, accused of treason for “aiding and abetting” the enemy (though I’ve seen no discussion of how the release of the WikiLeaks cables was anything more than diplomatically embarrassing)? I doubt it.

Likewise, if the legal system is going to hold the folks at Napster and Grokster financially liable for the infringement that occurs via their product even if they say that’s not what it was intended for, would those same people be ready to throw the book at the uncontrolled transfer of this intellectual property, since DD could reasonably be expected to know it would be used to shoot people? Again, I doubt it.

Both the Manning and filesharing cases are nonsensical, but one could apply their logics to the 3D gun and make some kind of sense. But I think it likely that no one will.

And finally, insult-to-injury, this is not about copyright. There’s a bit of “that word, I do not think it means what you think it means” with the use of “public domain” in the article.

I’m pretty sure that if someone picked up DD’s plans and started selling guns based on them, they’d be upset and maybe sue. I suspect, that is, that they haven’t relinquished their ownership of the blueprints (i.e. given the ownership to the public in the public domain) even if they have chosen to make them freely available. Plus, copyright has exactly nothing to do with gunshot wounds.

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