Defense Distributed, the Texas-based nonprofit that wants to empower people to 3D print their own guns, has hit a bit of a legal snag. According to founder Cody Wilson, DEFCAD, the open source weapon-printing project powered by Defense Distributed, received a letter (embedded below) from the State Department’s Office of Defense Trade Compliance, telling him to remove the blueprints of the Liberator, his 3D printed gun, from the web so that they may be reviewed by the department.
The group’s website currently has a red banner appended to the top that reads, “DEFCAD files are being removed from public access at the request of the US Department of Defense Trade Controls. Until further notice, the United States government claims control of the information.”
“We got an official letter from the Secretary of State, telling me who they were, what their authority was under U.S. law and telling me they want to review these files to see if they’re class one munitions,” Mr. Wilson told Betabeat by phone. “That includes blueprints.”
In the letter, embedded below, the State Department says that Defense Distributed may have released data that is controlled by the International Traffic in Arms Regulation without getting prior authorization. This would put the company’s actions in conflict with–oh boy–the Arms Export Control Act.
“Please note that disclosing (including oral or visual disclosure) or transferring technical data to a foreign person, whether in the United States or abroad, is considered an export,” reads the letter. It also says that until Defense Distributed has received the legal all-clear, the company “should treat the above technical data as ITAR-controlled. This means that all such data should be removed from public access immediately.”
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.
“I immediately complied and I’ve taken down the files,” Mr. Wilson said. “But this is a much bigger deal than guns. It has implications for the freedom of the web.”
Of course, since this is the Internet, the files are already all over the web, even though Mr. Wilson complied with the takedown.
“I still think we win in the end,” he added. “Because 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.”