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.