Will 3D plans for bongs become illegal, too?

Thingiverse -- a repository for user-created 3D meshes that can be fed to a 3D printer -- has just had its first (?) bong design uploaded, raising the question: if it's illegal in some jurisdictions to own or sell a bong, will it become illegal to own or sell the 3D design for printing a bong on your desktop 3D fab?

A note on the bong: MakerBong is a modular bong design that allows the smoker to design her own bong out of interlocking pieces, print them, and assemble to her satisfaction.

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?

Up Against the Wall and Spread Your Legs! (via Futurismic)


  1. Er… nope. Plans for bongs have been around for ages, why would them being 3D plans make a difference in law?

    Paraphenalia laws target items whose primary use is for taking drugs. You can’t smoke a bud through a digital file of a bong. Not until I finish the holodeck anyway.

    An image of a bong (which 3D plans are a type of) could never be illegal under mere prohibition of paraphernalia because it would quite obviously violate the right to free speech.

    Obviously in the future there could be a specific law made to target plans for bongs in the same way plans for bomb making are illegal.

  2. The genie will be out of the bottle (literally).
    Then, some dark rainy night, someone will discover plans online for a Castle-Bravo class device.
    What rough beast, it’s hour come ’round at last…

  3. Just wait until you can download programs to make your matter compiler spew out ecstasy pills and preloaded heroin syringes.
    The future will be weird and wild.

    1. at that time i wonder if our knowledge of the brain have advanced so that we can get a high from a couple of wires attached to the surface.

      1. We already know enough to do that, if you mean “surface of the brain”.

        If you mean “surface of your head”, we already know enough to know that just electrocutes your skin (so if you’re into that sort of thing).

        The problem is that it requires wires into your brain. This is a sensible idea for someone crippled by Parkinsons, but a stupid one for a healthy adult. And it’s going to be a VERY long time before we can do brain surgery in the home the way folks can brew or grow drugs in the home.

  4. Citation for what I wrote above:

    21 USC Sec. 863

    “d) ”Drug paraphernalia” defined:

    The term ”drug paraphernalia” means any equipment, product, or material of any kind which is primarily intended or designed for use in … ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing into the human body a controlled substance, possession of which is unlawful under this subchapter.”

    i.e. it has to be a material object.

    Later it says that instructions on the use of an object can be used to determine whether its primary purpose is drug taking. So if you fabricate a bong and they find a Thingiverse web page in your browsing history which says “how to fab a bong for smoking weed” then you might be fucked.

    1. It’s also possible they would argue that downloading (or obtaining by other means) the 3D plans is a step towards committing the crime of possessing/using/selling the paraphernalia.

  5. Americans are so funny. Owning a bong (!) is a bad illegal thing, even if you don’t use it. Owning a gun is just fine, as long as you don’t use it.

    What about a design for a working gun on Thingiverse? What if a person with a gun license makes one?

    1. “What about a design for a working gun on Thingiverse? What if a person with a gun license makes one?”

      Most jurisdictions don’t require a “gun license.” Read your Second Amendment.

      1. I have read the second amendment a number of times, and I still have no idea what it means. The version ratified by the states, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” seems to mean something quite different than the version Congress passed, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

        Frankly, if I had written either of those sentences when I was in school, any teacher would have told me they were ambiguous. This is probably not an accident; most of the constitution was left ambiguous for future generations to work out the details. But which is the one that is part of the constitution? The one with the extra commas, or without?

        Gun rights, and questions about their extent, are important, but it is usually a mistake to think the answer lies in the second amendment itself.

  6. Are the materials used in fabrication suitable for bong construction? I don’t mind breaking laws(kinda like it,in a way) but who wants to smoke thru a device made of suger or some weird ass polmer? Charras and Bud in a Chillum for me.

  7. Just by tricking me into downloading an image of these plans, I’ve got one strike out of my three allowed infringements before I’m cut off the internet. Thanks for nothing, dood.

  8. Once the man catches on I’m pretty sure the answer to all these questions will be “Yes”. But of course by the time that happens it will be far, far too late, as usual.

  9. I don’t think this is an issue.

    The gunsmithing / gun making crowd is a good case to look at, because in that scenario, the difference between law abiding and federal prison is a very simple, stamped piece of sheet metal the size of a quarter[1] that even a simple home machine shop can produce. No 3-D plans necessary – probably only a paper cut-out required.

    And these plans, for full auto rifles, or sound suppressors, etc., are available. Again, in most cases, you could probably build it from a spoken instruction, especially in the case of a sound suppressor.

    Mix in the seriousness of the BATFE and the general headline grabbing LEAs about sexy firearm busts and I think you can conclude: If plans for illegal objects were going to be unlawful, they would have been a long time in the case of firearms.

    [1] drop in auto-sear for an AR-15, for instance

  10. As any head shop employee will tell you: It’s not a bong. It’s a water pipe, and it’s for smoking tobacco and other legal herbs.

  11. Did the modular bong thing in the 80’s with 50 Ohm antenna connector parts from Amphenol.

  12. @arborman All Americans have a specific form of schizophrenia in regards to certain things. Guns okay, grass not okay is one of those symptoms. Hopefully in another couple of generations the drug hooplah will have negated itself to the non-issue it really is.

  13. The question will have to be answered eventually, because eventually rapid prototyping machines will make it possible to bypass all sorts of current legal protections. When the difference between a design for a machine gun and the machine gun itself becomes nothing more than hitting “print”, we’ll have to rethink our system of banning the ownership of specific objects.

    1. I’m sure there’s an -ism that describes what you’re doing here, but anyway we have designs for illegal things and people capable of making them right now. Your average office worker can’t do it, but practical mechanics, chemists and engineers can.

      E.g. this is a machine gun made in Chechnya: http://www.kk.org/streetuse/machine%20gun.jpg

      Fabricators becoming as ubiquitous as home computers, and able to print metal with the tolerances and strength required for a pistol, is a long way off.

      1. I am in agreement with you, but the law is not so logical. Witness p2p vs cd burning. they’re not trying to outlaw burners, but p2p makes it so _easy_ that they’re going after it.

  14. I suspect these will eventually be illegal, because they are eventually going to start banning plans for objects* and once that starts they’ll go after bongs.

    *The objects I’m thinking of are not guns but rather patented designs. If the RIAA can get away with banning the data used to recreate their copyrighted goods, manufacturers are going to be able to get away with banning the data used to recreate their patented goods.

  15. I don’t see why this concern is limited to things that are fabricated on 3D printers. The design files for a 3D model of a bong that can be made via injection molding are just as dangerous.

    Besides, 3D printers don’t make things that work; they make things that look like things that work. Just like most of the really low-cost stuff that’s made in China.

    1. 3D printers don’t make things that work; they make things that look like things that work. Just like most of the really low-cost stuff that’s made in China.

      I see wat you did thar. And it’s not funny, clever, or accurate.

      1. If 3D printers don’t just make stuff that looks like stuff that works, then make me an automobile engine with a 3D printer.

        1. Sure I’ll print you an engine, if you’ll put up the money for the materials and tooling and so on. CNC machining *is* a form of “3d printing”, though by subtraction rather than addition.

          For other things: Depends on the 3D printer and what you want. Toy printers typically use low-temp, low-strength materials because they’re cheaper to work with. But for many applications that’s all you need, and there are 3D printers which use more durable materials. In particular, I’m pretty sure there are ones which print a ceramic or related substance which would work for this purpose (maybe after being fired), and in any case even weak plastic would work fine as long as the firebowl is made from something else.

          In any case, a water pipe is a pretty trivial device. I’m sure I could throw one together out of off-the-shelf lab glassware in a few minutes, if I had any interest in doing so. Hardly worth “designing”, except for aesthetics.

          Drug paraphernalia laws are the equivalent of burglarous implement laws. They let the police confiscate things in the proximity of a crime without having to prove beforehand that these items are evidence of that particular crime. Sloppy solution at best.

  16. Depending on the material the printer is using, and the design, this might be a bad idea, anyway…you wouldn’t want to end up burning or melting ABS plastic, and then inhaling the fumes.

    The best materials for making bongs and pipes are glass, and briar, respectively.

  17. Suppose that a 3D mesh of a bong is illegal. What if the file is hosted in another country where it’s legal?

    Would it be illegal to merely link to a library of 3D meshes, if one of those meshes happens to be illegal in your country?

    Will the US have the site administrator extradited, as they do now for Canadians who sell pot paraphenalia into the US? Or if the site owner happens to visit the US, even without breaking US law while there, can he be locked up as Dmitri Sklyarov was for writing anti-Adobe DRM software?

  18. Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks’s home was attacked today, the latest attack for his drawing a cartoon of Muhammad.

    Obviously, printing out a 3D model of Mohammed will get you attacked. What about merely hosting a 3D mesh, without printing it? Do you attack the original artist who created it, the web site owner, or the hosting company who owns the server?

    What if the mesh shows up on BitTorrent? Does this take the attacks on The Pirate Bay to the next level?

    What about printing the mesh file in binary form on a T-Shirt, as some did with CSS cracking code for DVDs, and AACS keys for HD-DVD and Blu-Ray? Should you execute someone on the street for that? Or would putting a knife through it and staining it with the blood of an infidel also be a sin? This will have to be thought out ahead of time.

    We’ll need a new organization to detect and remove these files. One like the MPAA or RIAA, but not as fanatical.

  19. Philosophically, it’s an interesting question: if the only step between design and object and is clicking a button, is there any real difference? Well yes, there is. The law can be (and frequently is) arbitrary like that.

    But it’ll never really be an issue: there’s no denying that things made out of plastic goop aren’t really useful for much. I think the 3D printer ‘revolution’ is greatly exaggerated. The real revolution will come from small B2B links with China: email them a design for an aluminum part and, three weeks later, get back a box full of them. It’ll never quite be doable at the hobbyist scale, but there might be enough competition to make it a cost-plus-small-profit sort of business.

  20. Well, almost anything remotely controversial can be considered illegal by petty slimy ‘officials’ who like any excuse to pretend they are doing anything other than taking bribes and ignoring any real problems till they become critical.

    My issue with this thing is a bong can be made with almost anything and frankly most “Old-school/naturalist” approaches are the best. First, glass is the best medium, simply because it’s chemically inert for most operations. Second, while buying a fancy pipe is luxury, just a ‘glass/masonry’ drill bit and any bottle can be converted into one. Third, even an apple can be made into a bong/pipe.

    I wouldn’t necessarily want to make a bong with a ‘maker’ right now, inhaling all that plastic stuff. Of course they could be used as “Molds” to make other things, such as a modular one that you then melt glass and pour stuff into to make something that’d be too complex for old school glass making as long as you don’t mind welded seams.

    Also, as pointed out above, the best ‘dodge’ is “These are pipes ONLY for ‘Fine Tobacco’ or other ‘Legal Herbs'”…

  21. The funny thing about some of the bong laws is they only target the word “bong” itself. In both Texas and Georgia “bongs can be sold but they have to be sold as “water pipes” Someone asking for a bong will be refused service or asked to leave the store. You see signs saying things like “If it rhymes with wrong then don’t say it” or “Repeat after me “I want to buy a water pipe”

    So would it make any difference to such silly statutes if they plans were labeled “Water Pipe”?

  22. “Dude, those plans belong to my cousin. He just asked me to let him store them on my server for a while.”

  23. Seeing how many kids I know who are willing and able to make bongs out of just about any fruit or vegetable, I’m surprised farmers markets are allowed to happen. (And this is in a city were both bongs and pot are legal.)

    Love all the “Americans are such twits” comments up thread. Thanks for lumping us all together, I know how much you love it when do it to you wacky foreigners. Quite a few places in the US bongs and pot are entirely legal. In other places not so much. And I’m sure some misguided idiot somewhere is writing legislation to ban plans for bongs.

  24. A couple of people have mentioned the IP aspects of 3D printers; my paper – co-authored with RepRap inventor Adrian Bowyer and one of his students – looking at this from a UK/European perspective is in Edinburgh University’s SCRIPTed 7.1:

    “The Intellectual Property Implications of Low-Cost 3D Printing”

    Criminal law issues were beyond the scope of this paper, although they will certainly arise – as will liability. What happens if I make available a 3D mesh for a car spare and it turns out, either through design flaw or inadequate materials, to fail catastrophically. Who is to blame – me for making available a bad design, or you for using it without making sure it is suitable for the task?

    1. The person who failed to adequately festoon the design with bright large red letters, with hands pointing to the words, spelling out “Use at your own risk – designer assumes no liability whatsoever, nor give any warranty , for any use to which this design is put, etc, etc”.
      perhaps the Legislature could helpfully remove or reduce any such liability by statute, just as they impose liabilities and fines by statute for copyright infringement.

  25. Talk about a can of worms… but I still think the majority of hubbub resulting from Fabbin’ at home is going to come from copyrighters and copyfighters.

  26. That’s so cool! A whole site should be dedicated to 3d bong designs for print… and they should call it bongbong.net…

  27. The main question is: can knowledge be illegal? And how would you know it was if it could be?

    Knowing how to kill a man does not make you a homicidal maniac. The only two crime I know of which does not incorporate implicit action, but only knowledge are treason – and even that requires transmission of knowledge vitally important to the country – and instigation of a crime, which requires criminal intention.

    So knowledge itself cannot be illegal, only its transmission if it contains secrets of vital importance to a country or is meant to instigate a crime. I fail to see vital importance for any country in plans for a bong nor the intention of instigation to use it for a crime, so it could hardly be illegal, at least in a sane country (I am not 100% sure which countries are sane ATM, so bear with me until we find out).

    Greetings, LX

  28. (Gasps in realization)
    My God! With a bong like that…I could – dare I say it? – Rule the world!!
    I must protect these plans at all costs!!

    Seriously, though, it ain’t the knowledge, it is its existence in a externally concretized form (and thus accessible to others) the possession of which may be punished, which the Authorities are aiming at. Like outlawing bibles, or korans, or torahs, or pagan verses….
    or in fact the laws outlawing the possession of all or any form of written pornography, for eg., would all be examples of the outlawing of the mere possession of concretized external “knowledge”, that is, information.
    I’m sure some would punish others for their mere thoughts, if they could figure out some way to do so.
    People have tried quite often to “outlaw” types of thought, or thinking, with which they do not agree, and with which they do not wish to argue. That not having worked very well, they then go after the books and plans, or whatever or whomever else they can literally get their hands on. That can work tolerably well to suppress inconvenient thinking by others, and for quite some time too.
    IIRC there was a time when the mere knowledge and awareness of religions other than the local variant of Christianity was, in itself and with nothing more, a good reason to investigate or prosecute on charges of suspicion of witchcraft, not hesitating to use the full spectra of physical torture to elicit “co-operation” in their “investigations”.
    The “good old days”.
    Have we changed all that much?
    I sincerely hope so!

  29. Moderator note: This isn’t a discussion about the meaning of the Second Amendment. It was just an example.

  30. Is it just me, or this kind of “lawmaking” is a recipe for cancer-like growth of the government’s power?

    I don’t know, but the people who make these laws and policies should realize they are getting nowhere. They cannot stop people from growing plants and smoking plants (not at least those they view as “bad”). Now they ban everything remotely connected with it. It’s either extreme stupidity and self-righteousness, or… a conspiracy to destroy our rights.

    Let’s ban self-righteousness instead! It’s a more addicting drug than heroin, it’s more nocive to the brain than solvent (dope). It can keep people producing laws in the face of persistent policy failure. It has produced more stupidity and inconvenience than any drug banned because of self-righteous morons.

    Ah, by the way, I think the same about guns.

  31. If I cared, I would consult an attorney, rather than asking the internet. crowdsourcing will only get you so far.

  32. | | —TUBE
    | |
    | | ~
    | | ~
    | | ~
    / \//
    |water// —smaller tube goes through hole

    there now we’re all criminals

  33. Luckily we still have freedom of speech in the U.S., or at least for now? I can’t see why using the designs would be illegal?

    I have the “recipie” to make heroin. But simply having the knowledge of how to do it, doesn’t make it illegal, if I do so, in thus breaking the law, then I’m in trouble.

    However, some information, such as information about people in the witness protection programs, or advanced designs for say a nuclear bomb that would enable an ordinary person to create and detonate them, I could understand why mearly the information, would be illegal. In this case there is nothing more than “information” on making a bong. There are designs that show how to make a bong out of household objects, I don’t see why this would be any difference.

    Although it’s a thought provoking question, it’s only being raised because it’s technology, and relatively new, and there are not previous legal precedents.

  34. Dude, Bongs are now totally legal (LEGAL) in the US at a Federal Level.

    If you don’t believe me, check out
    Case No. C 08-02533-PJH

    PH(X) Glass sued another bong company for violating its trademark. If bongs were not legal, this case would have been thrown out, right…?


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