3D printers used to be an expensive toy for universities, architects and designers. As the price of these devices falls, the door for a new type of online piracy opens.
My college’s graphics department had one. It was 8 foot tall, 4 foot wide and heavily guarded by nervous technicians. The price of running the machine meant that all it made were tiny and badly made fittings, designed by confused students.
There are millions of blueprints available online including cars, guitars and even guns. Earlier this year Michael Guslick built most of a AR-15 semi automatic rifle using a 3d printer and fired over 200 rounds with it to prove that it works.
From a libertarian point of view, the ability to produce firearms without state control is a step towards equality. One group attempted to uses crowd funding site IndieGoGo to finance the design of two plastic guns which can be produced using a 3D printer. Law student and supporter Cody Wilson stated “In the future, no one is going to be able to decide who has a gun but you. This is a project that intends to help subvert older hierarchies and these older modes of thinking.”
While this group aims for a subversion of hierarchy, some fear the outcome could be chaos and crime, similar to “zip” guns used by gangsters in the ‘50s. Zip guns were built from rubber bands, coffee percolators and wooden handles; they are dangerous to both the perpetrator and the intended victim.
However, firearms are only a tiny fraction of the possibilities of 3D printers. As the technology becomes more affordable, the creativity and designs available will grow in a similar manner to media piracy. 3D printers themselves may even become a victim of their own success. In the same way people used the P2P network Limewire to download the pay-to-use Limewire Pro for free; people could build 3D printers using their existing 3D printer.
The ability to reproduce products regardless of patents and copyright is a great success for consumers but a great threat to tech companies who argue that it threatens their resources to develop new technology. Others argue that it will boost creativity by allowing anybody to design products and develop their own ideas without the support of oligopolistic industries.
Widespread breach of copyright has been existent since copyright existed, from counterfeit goods to tape decks to The Pirate Bay.
There are already systems in place to prevent counterfeiting of currency but applying these to the millions of patents held is unrealistic. The Motion Picture Association of America tells us, “You wouldn’t steal a car, you wouldn’t steal a handbag and you wouldn’t steal a television” but the vast majority of people would jump at the chance to clone them.
What would you make with a 3D printer?
By Jack Courtez