Remember how the only law on the books about 3D printing involved printing guns? That’s about to be challenged on constitutional grounds.
Cody Wilson, the man behind the Liberator, the world’s first 3D printed gun, has formally brought charges against the State Department. The 25-page lawsuit states that the federal agency is attempting to censor Wilson’s rights to free expression of disseminating the plans for his gun, and claims in the two years since he initially put the plans online the State Department has misused the law and left him in a state of legal limbo.
The charges, which include violations of Wilson’s first, second, and fifth amendment rights, could be a groundbreaking case. But will it be enough to get regulators to start paying attention to 3D printing?
Wilson’s side is fairly simple: after telling Wilson to take down the plans for his 3D printable gun on the grounds of it possibly violating the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), the State Department has yet to issue any sort of decision as to whether it actually had. In theory the verdict should’ve only taken 60 days. As The New York Times reports:
Now, with a high-powered legal team behind it, Mr. Wilson’s company,Defense Distributed, has filed suit against the State Department, claiming that its efforts to stop him from publishing his plans, which are no more than computer code, amount to a prior restraint on free speech. The 25-page suit, filed on Wednesday in Federal District Court in Austin, Tex., is an innovative and apparently unprecedented effort to use the First Amendment in support of the Second.
To call Wilson’s plans “no more than computer code” is slightly disingenuous; they are, after all, schematics for a weapon that one could print from their home which would be undetectable by metal detectors, given the plastic material most 3D printers use. But to say that gun would automatically be put to misuse—anymore than any other homemade weapon—is also potentially jumping the gun.
Whether or not Wilson will have a case, it’s fair to say that the whole situation demonstrates the complicated nature of 3D printing: it presents a completely unprecedented approach to the way we build and own things. And if the State Department’s regulating answer is to just delete things off the internet, they’re in for quite the battle (the Liberator alone got 100,000 downloads in the two days before Wilson got shut down).
Like Venable’s Joshua Kaufman writes, the internet allows 3D printing to be even less contained than it would already be:
From a personal perspective, the 3D printers of today remind me of the 300 BAUD modem days, when downloading movies took days and hours to download a tune; and even then the quality was not very good. However, as a result, fast forward a few years we now have Netflix, Kindle, and iTunes. These days it is rare to see any video or record stores in shopping malls, and very few book stores. While still a few years away, I believe the potential for having a high-speed sophisticated 3D printer in a majority of our homes is very real. Where, instead of going out to shop for products, we will simply be able to download the files and print out orders ourselves.
As it stands now, it has the potential to completely knock down our current legal climate around everything from gun control to intellectual property, and so far the only way legislators seem to know how to tackle 3D printing is through (specific) gun control. Given the wide-reaching possibilities of 3D printing, and the fact it’s more than reasonably likely to be a very disruptive technology, that’s absurd.
The fact that Wilson’s lawsuit is years in the making means that in the time since 3D printing has only continued to evolve, all without any sort of regulatory guideline. And as Justin McNaughton notes for Trademarkology, the market is already primed for revolutionary approaches:
A few months ago, Forbes ran an article summarizing the Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index and came to a similar conclusion. The Forbes article noted that consumer expectations are increasing faster than companies are rising to meet expectations. Interestingly, categories are removed from the Customer Loyalty Engagement Index once all of the brands for a particular product or service become so blah that there is no significant brand differentiation. In 2015, Diapers and Breakfast Cereals were removed from the Index.
Combining these two studies, it becomes clear that there are a lot of industries out there that are ready for disruption, simply waiting for a new and different brand to bring change.
And with more and more talk of 3D printing entering the marketplace—only last week L’Oreal announced a partnership with U.S. bioprinting firm Organova for cosmetic testing—and there’s still no regulation to guide it.
Whether or not Wilson’s case makes it as far as some think it will, this could be the case that makes people start paying attention the way 3D print will create a whole new status quo. Because from here, it looks like there’s a lot more than mousetraps to build.