'Subversive' Site Aims to Be Pirate Bay of 3D Printing
Computer printers aren't typically linked with the word "subversive," but that's the mission of a new site for 3D printer files.
Defcad was announced Tuesday at the South by Southwest Interactive conference. It is designed to give 3D printer enthusiasts access to files that allow them to create objects with their printers -- even if those objects are protected by intellectual property laws.
Defcad is backed by Defense Distributed, an Austin, Texas group that recently made headlines by offering 3D printer files to make firearm parts.
Cody R. Wilson, managing director of Defense Distributed, didn't respond to a request to comment for this story. Wilson did make his vision for the site clear in a YouTube video.
"Defcad stands against artificial scarcity, intellectual property, copyright, patentable objects and regulation in all its forms," Wilson said in the video.
"If 3D printing is going to be developed as a technology, we need specific tools to help get around industry, government and the collusive members of the Maker community," he continued.
"Maker community" is a reference to users of Makerbot 3D printers.
After Makerbot discovered that Defense Distributed was using its 3D printer to make parts for firearms, it forced the group to return the printer to Makerbot.
Makerbot also operates a website, Thingiverse, for sharing 3D files. Late last year, it purged the site of files for making firearm components, including a part for an AR-15 assault rifle.
Thinkiverse's approach to managing 3D printer files was rapped by Wilson in his Defcad manifesto video.
"Help us turn Defcad into the world's first unblockable, open source search engine for all 3D printable parts," he said.
"Can 3D printing be subversive? If it can, it will be because it allows us to make the important things -- not trinkets, not lawn gnomes, but the things that institutions and industries have an interest in keeping from us -- things like access, medical devices, drugs, goods, guns."
If Defcad becomes a Pirate's Bay for objects, it will risk running afoul of the law, according to David Mixon, a patent attorney with Bradley Arant Boult Cummings.
"The law doesn't care how you come up with a product -- whether you made it yourself in your garage, or whether you use a 3D printer, or whether you paid someone else to do it," he told TechNewsWorld. "If you have it and if infringes an apparatus claim, you infringe."
Defending patents, though, will be more difficult in a world with expanded 3D printing, Mixon noted.
"Instead of having a few concentrated sources of infringement, you'll have a plethora of potential infringers," he said. "Anyone with this type of device could make an infringing component in his basement or garage. That would make enforcement much more difficult."
What are the prospects for Wilson's vision of 3D printing as a subversive technology?
"A 3D printer is a general purpose technology, so you can use it to make all sorts of things," Michael Weinberg, vice president of Public Knowledge told TechNewsWorld.
"It's easy when you first see 3D printing to get ahead of the technology -- to imagine things that it can't do, like printing out an iPhone," he said. "People are going to use 3D printers to make all sorts of things. Some people will be excited about those things. Some people will be concerned about some of those things. It's important to take it all with a grain of salt."