Future Tense

“Wiki Weapon” Founder Wants to Build the Google of 3-D Printed Guns

No one has yet designed a fully operable 3-D printed gun, but it is possible to print gun parts such as the lower receiver of an AR-15.

No one has yet designed a fully operable 3-D printed gun, but Defense Distributed and others have figured out how to print working gun parts such as the lower receiver of an AR-15.

Screenshot / YouTube

The Texas law student behind a project to build a fully 3-D printed gun has a new venture: a search engine for gun parts and other 3-D printable contraband.

In Austin this evening, Cody Wilson of the nonprofit Defense Distributed is announcing a new, for-profit startup called Defcad, which he envisions as a repository for 3-D printing blueprints that established 3-D printing sites won’t touch. He’s hoping to raise $100,000 over the next 30 days to make Defcad.com a reality.

The site would build on the makeshift database that Wilson and co. built at Defcad.org in response to Brooklyn-based MakerBot’s December decision to remove all designs for firearm components from the Thingiverse, its popular online marketplace for 3-D printed goods. Those included a blueprint for the lower receiver of an AR-15, billed as a way for people to put together a working gun without having to obtain a license.

“It’s still legal in America to make guns and have gun parts, but Thingiverse took those files down from its site,” Wilson told me. “So when we get to the interesting battles that are yet to come—DMCA takedown requests, physical DRM—we know those people will fold. That’s why we want to build this infrastructure early. And search is a viable way to do it.”

Wilson is talking about the intellectual property battles that arise when people publish designs for 3-D printable versions of copyrighted objects. He says Defcad won’t censor any blueprints that come its way, and won’t respond to takedown requests from rights-holders under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. He believes that openness could make his site a popular alternative to the Thingiverse, where you can download plans for a “fight the power” pencil holder but not for a weapon—nor a Penrose Triangle that was the subject of a copyright infringement claim in February. (Thingiverse complied with a DMCA takedown notice for the triangle design, an episode that prompted it to draw up a copyright policy.)

Defcad will also happily host blueprints for more benign 3-D printed objects, Wilson said. “It’s not going to be just a bazaar of controversial things.”

Amid the national gun control debate, some lawmakers have called for a ban on 3-D printed gun parts, which they fear could undermine attempts at regulation by allowing people to print weapons in their own living rooms. Wilson says he’s aware of the potential for misuse—“as the technology advances, someone will be injured, someone will be killed,” he told Popular Science recently—but he believes that defending and expanding the right to bear arms is worth the cost.

In a video pitching the new search engine (see below), Wilson plays a clip of President Obama hailing 3-D printing as “the next revolution in manufacturing” in his latest State of the Union address. Over the video, Wilson intones: “Talk is nice. Platitudes are easy. But a revolution… means a revolution.”

Last year, Wired’s Danger Room blog named Wilson one of the “15 Most Dangerous People in the World.” He certainly isn’t afraid to play the part of the freedom fighter. The irony is that, by framing the fight in such combative terms, Wilson may be making the case for 3-D printing regulation more powerfully than any anti-gun activist could.