The US State Department has ordered Defense Distributed to take down the designs for a working 3D printed gun, citing export control rules set out in the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. Defense Distributed's Cody Wilson is appealing, and says that ITAR does not apply to "non-profit public domain releases of technical files designed to create a safe harbor for research and other public interest activities" — though this carve out is for works stored in a library. Wilson's appeal may turn, then, on whether the Internet is a library for the purposes of this regulation. In the meantime, the designs are still up on The Pirate Bay, and are for sale in printed form in an Austin bookseller. More than 100,000 copies of the designs were downloaded from Defense Distributed's servers in the brief time that they were online.
"Until the Department provides Defense Distributed with final [commodity jurisdiction] determinations, Defense Distributed should treat the above technical data as ITAR-controlled," reads the letter, referring to a list of ten CAD files hosted on Defcad that include the 3D-printable gun, silencers, sights and other pieces. "This means that all data should be removed from public acces immediately. Defense Distributed should review the remainder of the data made public on its website to determine whether any other data may be similarly controlled and proceed according to ITAR requirements."
Wilson, a law student at the University of Texas in Austin, says that Defense Distributed will in fact take down its files until the State Department has completed its review. "We have to comply," he says. "All such data should be removed from public access, the letter says. That might be an impossible standard. But we'll do our part to remove it from our servers."
Wilson's project is raising some important legal questions, such as whether design files can be considered expressive speech under the First Amendment, and whether the Internet is a library. The question of code-as-speech was famously considered in the Bernstein case, where strong crypto was legalized. However, as we discovered in the 2600 case, judges are less charitably inclined to code-as-speech arguments when they're advanced by non-academics, especially those with counter-culture stances.
Impact litigation — where good precedents overturn bad rules — is greatly assisted by good facts and good defendants. I would much rather the Internet-as-library question be ruled on in a less emotionally overheated realm than DIY guns.
(Thanks to everyone who sent this in!)