Whether at home or at a local hacker space, lots of people use 3D printers to create either knickknacks, things like figurines or chess pieces or small but useful objects like replacement gears. I spoke this week with Cody R. Wilson. He's a University of Texas Law School student and found of the defense distributed Wiki weapon project. This is not your average use case for 3D printing.
Wilson's part of a small group working to put online as an STL file plans for a working firearm entirely of printable parts. Others have made 3D printable gun parts, even substantial ones, but not the whole thing. The Wiki weapon is partly a thought experiment and partly a philosophical statement about arms. But it's not just theoretical. They're soliciting ideas and designs and offer some down-loadable files already. Wilson wants to use the development and distribution methods of open source software, in other words the things that keep tools like PGP available to everyone, and apply them to a whole different type of weapon.
Cody R. Wilson: Defense distributors Wiki Weapon project is essentially about taking a CAD file or an STL file, downloadable, for a firearm.
Ensuring the possibility that that file would be completely distributed across the internet as much as possible. And at least taking a page out of open source, making sure that it's available to as many people that want to have it as possible. And then that lends to different questions and outcomes regarding gun control, civil society. I mean, we don't intend for there to be conclusions of a certain order or a certain kind because of this, but the project is about making sure this file's out there.
The weapon we're designing is not, it's not fair to really draw an analogy between any other kind of weapon. I think the possibility that this project represents is that, well weapons are now it's kind of a new stage. What is a weapon? Question you, like what is a handgun now? I mean, people keep saying, "I see pundits and these pieces who were brought in for kind of rhetorical balance, well, this might be difficult and the gun might fail." Well of course it might fail. I mean, this is the new possibilities that these represent. Failing is now a feature, not a bug, you know what I'm saying?
Like, what are all the bizarre designs that guns, firearms, and not just those, not to narrow that down but material objects themselves what will they take on when they are now crowd sourced and distributed across the internet? This is just that possibility extruded like the plastic we're using through the platonic form of the gun. I constantly chide myself for how small I was thinking when we began this. I mean I thought we would do it in house, develop it, but as soon as we announced it there was just an outpouring of support. All over the world, Russian people -- I mean, I don't know why I went to Russia first -- but I mean just anybody, anywhere, felt free to e-mail me. You know I use my personal e-mail, my school e- mail. Suggestions, designs.
In fact that's why we came up with the contest itself. We weren't being open sourced and true to the OSI model enough. So we wanted to expand, expand, expand. On every chain of development people are giving legal counsel, people are giving opinions on every chain of the project. It's just like the world, I don't want to say the world wants it to happen. Who do we..? No, I can't say that, but there's a market for it. There's a market for the idea and people are excited about it.
This is the most exciting part of the project so far for me because we're deciding, okay, well how do we accept designs, how do we distribute the designs themselves? If the project's going to stand or fall it will be because we figured out, well what's the right way of licensing this, and now it gets to free software. Or, and that's an important philosophical question. Are these files going to be software? Do we treat them like software? Is that the propaganda essentially or are they art or are they something else? And that determines, that at least, that's how we answer the question, what kind of licensing do we use?
So I was thinking from the very beginning, not thinking deep enough, oh GPL license or just a general OSI. No, I think we need to do something like a BSD. We need to do something like maybe a creative commons license, and thankfully you know paragons like icons of the open source movement have reached out to us just in time to help us answer these questions. Because look man, I just got into law school. I don't know anything about IP, you know what I'm saying? I'm figuring it out as I go.
That's another beautiful part of this project. It's just like, you're learning so much about the world, so much about, it's the most instructive thing I've ever done, it's the most brilliant period of creation I've ever had the privilege of being able to experience. People begin with fresh assumptions about what is a gun? Kind of like we've talked about already. Well it needs to be able to maintain rigidity and structural form for the bolt thrust and the chamber pressure. Okay, and they have this idea of how to feed a gun. No, we're thinking like break it down to its most irreducible components, right? Something extremely crude like a canister with a hole in it, you know what I'm saying, and a locking block. And the pin is essentially a bang stick model. I mean it can be that basic. It's still a weapon, it's still a gun, it still fires a .38, a .22. As long as the thing doesn't explode, and sometimes we're beginning to think even if the thing does explode in certain ways, you're not hurt — it's lethal, it's still a gun. The techniques required, that's almost a trap, you know what I mean? And it's almost a benefit that we're beginning from a total amateur background.
I mean we've got engineers, electrical engineers, you know. But students, only students that began with the project. Now we have professional support coming in, but I'm very glad that people aren't saying, "Well, this is how you do it" and "this is how it should be done". No it's like the John Browning American idea. Like No, we're going to tinker around with it, we're going to blow up some guns until something works. And is that terrible? Maybe it is, but it's going to be out there, it just is, it just is.
What does that have to do with law? Man, I don't have a ready answer for that, it's just this is where my mind is, my mind is well what is just, what is? Let's toy with enlightenment ideas. Why not? Let's, like, literally materialize freedom. Let's play around with that. Like, isn't it strange that we can live in a world where we can literally, metaphorically materialize the ideas and the concepts we're playing around with? That's dangerous.
But what this project's really about, fuck your laws, you know what I'm saying? It's stepping up, it's being able to go, you know what, I don't like this legal regime I neatly step outside of it. Now what, you know?
The world is suddenly shaken from its sleep walking, you know, oh my god, I don't want this to happen. And, so what? And the terms aren't finished but I think we're going to use something like a very short form and like a zlib license. I think it's a zlib license. I was looking last night and like derivatives of BSD licensing. I'm getting kind of off topic here. But I'm thinking like we maintain attribution to the original authors, right? So it's a similar copyleft or copyright in that matter. But then only short terms like, warranties of no guaranteed warranty of useful and you know what I'm saying, like, Okay it could blow up. And then don't misrepresent the modification or who made the modification of the original authorship. And I think that's it.
So people will submit essentially intellectual property but they will disclaim all rights other than their authorship of that right to attribution. And it will be, we're not even going to include a no commercial use, at least you know as of today. I don't think we're even going to flip the no commercial use switch as ESR said. Because I don't want to, people, okay when I talk with my law friends, I know I'm just going everywhere now. But when I talk with my law friends they go, well we need to think about, first, the first priority in licensing is how do we restrict liability? It's not about protecting us or protecting authors, it's about how to best facilitate the distribution, the advancement in modification of this technology, or the sufferance, alright, whatever you want to style it as. It's about how not to chill it. How to really ensure that, because we can put the file out. But if the shark and the courts and everyone decides, the leviathan itself decides, oh we've got a neat trick for this, shut down. Okay, no then we failed.
Perhaps this is how law comes into it. Knowing the right way to licensing it from the beginning, perhaps best facilitates its immediate distribution. And it's irrevocable distribution. I was talking to someone about PGP. In the beginning, I'm not sure if you're aware. PGP was considered by the government a munition and I think there were statutory authority that's since been kind of tweaked a little bit that was like, well you, there's some arms exports stuff that governs this and you can't share this with people. I think the analogy is directly there. What they're going to do I think if they do things, and this is why we have to move quickly but, they're going to say, well you're exporting munitions, you're exporting munitions technology. Either that's illegal on an IP front or just straight up you're sharing weapons with the world and you can't do that. Okay, fine, let's do it anyway. Weird things have been happening. I hate to be paranoid about, you know what I'm saying, but I mean, no I don't think the right people know to be angry. And perhaps the right people say they know better then us and they don't think it can happen. Fine, but we'll surprise them anyway.
There will be software in that when you load this into your — okay, a good analogy is C&C diagrams. You go to C&C guns right now, C&Cguns.com right now get your C&C file, your SCL, and print that right, well not print it but mill it, you know what I mean, immediately. It's almost the same thing, it's just in plastic, so. And that's much more accessible to people now. I'm not going to go buy C&C mill, but I might have one day a $500 Rep-Rap. There's really the only difference because you can get the file, click print, you know run it through your software and then you've got a gun.
We've looked at flare gun concepts, we've looked at match sticks, I mean everything. Anything and everything is on the table right now that's almost, I almost lament it. Because it's at the height, it's at it's most creative stage of possibilities right now because we're still thinking. I mean our product people aren't really working with us until next week, you know what I'm saying? So then we'll have to start getting down to brass tacks and making decisions and sacrifices and creative sacrifices. It's not a matter of years, it's not a matter of many months. I think it's, if it's going to happen and if we're going to do it, the money's there, the money's coming in, the resources are there, nice, nice printers, nice resources, engineering talent. If it is at all possible in any form it's going to happen very soon. I don't think weapons are dangerous is a compelling argument. I think some weapons are dangerous is a compelling argument, you know.
I mean, should, and this is a good one. Should everyone be able to have their own nuclear device? I mean, that's not something I'm even going to approach. It's not something I want to talk about. But I think armed men are free men. You know, I'm a proponent of at least these ideas. And I wanted to be conscious about not just giving people an explicit, you know, manifesto of just like literally down line by line, this is why and this is why and this is why. And something that people can pick apart our lives and be like, well these are lazy armchair philosophers. We just gave the people a very neat list of quotations and things they can kind of put together for themselves.
Milton's Areopagitica is essentially the spiritual analog that I'm holding out for people. Which is more to do not about like why guns are good. It's more about why like speech and information is good. Why like you just must reckon with, you must be free to reckon with whatever ideas that you can. It isn't enough that a society can just withhold things. That doesn't befit you as a moral agent. That doesn't allow you to exist or to, that doesn't allow you to fully exercise your capacity as a human being, as a moral agent. That's what I want this to be more about. Not to get stuck in debates about, well we can have semi-automatic rifles but let's not have automatic rifles. Like Obama said, those belong on the battlefield. No, no, no, the battlefield is the mind, you know what I'm saying? Like the battlefield is culture. Let's make people, let's make individuals reckon with these ideas themselves.