Why Introducing DRM into 3D Printed Firearms Files Is A Bad Idea

3D Printed Ghost Guns
Why Introducing DRM into 3D Printed Firearms Files Is A Bad Idea

U.S.A.-(Ammoland.com)- The idea of adding digital rights management (DRM) to 3D print files has been floating around the gun world lately. Before we get into the DRM problems, we must understand why companies use that type of software. We can consider needing to insert a floppy disk into a computer before a program would run in the 1980s as DRM-ish, but we will start in the 1990s for this explanation.

Back in the early 1990s, writeable CD drives were cost prohibitive. Users couldn’t just burn a CD to copy a game or program. That all changed when cheap CD burners it the market. These burners allowed users to copy CDs. I remember when I was in high school, a friend of mine got a CD Burner. We fired his computer up and started cranking out copies of the game “Age of Empires.” Pretty soon, everyone in my group of friends had a copy for a single blank CD price.

We also would burn copies of music CDs. We would buy a single CD and just copy them. This sharing happened with tapes all the time. The difference is that every time a tape was copied, the quality of the recording dropped because the music was analog. With CDs, the music is digital. There is no drop in quality. That meant one copy could turn into two, then three, and so forth

Companies saw this movement and decided to combat piracy by adding small files or code that prevent the media’s copying. DRM was born. With the rise in digital media, DRM went mainstream. It became a digital arms race between companies and pirates that cracked the DRM, causing companies to create new DRM. Now you can find DRM in everything from movies to e-books.

People who are just getting into 3D printing pitches DRM without knowing the massive downside of creating such a system. On the surface, it doesn’t seem bad. Companies can protect their intellectual property (IP) and can monetize their designs. Sure, it brings the big players into the market, but that might not be an upside.

Right now, designs are freely flowing through the Internet. It isn’t hard to find Glock clones, lightning links, AR lowers, or a slew of other 3D printing files.

If companies get into 3D printing, you can be sure they will do everything in their power to shut down sites that violate their patents on their IP. It will destroy the 3D printing community. Corporations would usurp the small tight knit group of designs like CTRL Pew and Ivan The Troll.

Another drawback of DRM is that a lot of it is going to an “online-only” model. This model is standard with video games. The game reaches out to a remote server to validate the copy of the software. If a gamer wants to play a single-player game offline, they can’t. The game requires an internet connection to run.

With gun files, this means every time to print something a server knows, and it isn’t too much of a jump to assume the government knows as well. This situation would defeat the whole purpose of 3D printing gun files. Using 3D printers to print gun files is to defeat gun control and not feed into it.

Another massive drawback is the end-user gives up ownership of the files. Sure, you buy the files, but it is more of a licensing model than an ownership model. The companies maintain control of what a user can do with the file. You want to print multiple copies. Nope, you have to pay for that. You want to modify the design. Nope, you can’t do that either. A lot of end user’s agreements let the company revoke your license.

Let’s say DRM is introduced into 3D gun files by firearms giants. As long as you are not a prohibited person and have an FFL willing to sell you a gun, you can buy any firearm you can afford. With DRM, a company can decide they don’t want you to have its rifle (maybe even pressured by the government). That company can simply revoke your license.

These reasons are just the tip of the iceberg. There is no upside with DRM for the end-user.

It is giving up control and stifles innovation in the home 3D printed gun community. In the end, we all would lose.

About John Crump

John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. John has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, or at www.crumpy.com.

John Crump

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Remember when you had to buy the program in order to use it and run it on your computer? Like Word or Excel. Then all of a sudden windows 10 came along and now you lease it on a yearly basis. Can you see the writing on the wall here? Yep, that is going to be the wave of the future for almost anything they can do it with. I wonder in ten years if we will still be able to own a car or if we can only lease it. That would be great, that way when they say,… Read more »


Trudeau agenda 2030 is what you speak of. They want you to rent pots & pans to even cook with if YOU FEEL LIKE COOKING. LOL

Connor H

The extensive use of open source licensing is a core pillar of the 3d printing community. Literally every functional, reliable 3d printed model has been the result of crowd sourced collaboration & extensive testing; the free sharing and dissemination of the designs has led to massive leaps forward. Additionally, a core purpose of 3d printing firearms is to reclaim means of production & spread the knowledge and tools for anyone in the world to arm themselves. Gun rights are human rights, and DRM would be diametrically opposed to that principle. I personally would refuse to pay for any form of… Read more »

Grinning Dragon

The issue I see here is that if DRM were to be implemented, it would only affect equipment and software from that point on. Older software/files and machines wouldn’t be affected as those pieces existed before the DRM was put into play. I guess there could be updated firmware and software patches in the hopes one would be silly enough to download and install.


Adobe I believe are the ones who perfected this scheme. First Photoshop version O bought was v 2.5, I had the ID code for THAT disc, fed it to my computer, and sort of began to use it. That computer was too slow, got a faster one. Same disc same code, S v 2.5 was on the new machine in a few minutes. Upgrades came, sometimes discounted because I had a recent version. then to get the upgrade price ou had to have the most recent version, otherwise grab your wheelbarrow full of Fun Tickets and buy new full price.… Read more »


Just downloaded Ivan’s new files. I have a 3D printer that I bought years ago but haven’t even unboxed (had to sell the house, new place is too small) and I have Gigs of files, Just in case.


I fully expect the government to get involved at some point. The potential as a taxation stamp/fee revenue generatoris just too great. Also, it would/could be the backdoor into ad hoc gun registration.


“It is giving up control and stifles innovation in the home 3D printed gun community.” I fundamentally disagree. A firearm is not music. A firearm can be reverse engineered from an on hand example. But one can also be imagined from scratch. Being locked out of existing designs would entice people to create, model, slice and print their own. This new age technology is well and truly out of the bag. There is no putting this tooth paste back in the tube. Pick and/or create your own metaphor. And while you’re at it, design and create your own 3D printer… Read more »


Sure design and build your own gun. All you have to be is a mechanical engineer, a software engineer, and a few other high skilled disciplines all rolled into one.

DUMB Idea and WHY do you want to give MORE power to the government?


@Hazcat – Didn’t look to me like @DDS supports DRM. Looked to me as though he was saying that implementation would be impossible and fruitless. I suspect reality would be somewhere between the two visions. Big corporations would produce low cost products, enticing majority of consumers to go that route. Those companies would also patent whatever they could, allowing them to sue and abuse people attempting to utilize the current crowd source methodology. Some individuals would produce and distribute “bootleg” printers and supplies, others would just make their own. Open source designs would be available, but harder to find and… Read more »


Anything involving an operating system distributed by anti-gun anti-freedom corporations will fail when the revolution starts. You really do not want your freedom to depend on internet access. When the cloud dissipates and you need a weapon to hold the line you need either paper drawings and a lathe, drill press, and file; or an xyz milling machine with a simple text file to locate and cut. No patents required. Once you perfect your first production then it is load the billet and repeat, over and over. Any machine can be designed to read a text file. Arduino’s are cheap.… Read more »