Schematics for 3D printing a working handgun have been yanked from their original website by order of the State Department--but the files remain online at the Pirate Bay website and elsewhere.
The files for the Liberator hand gun were published at the Defense Distributed website on Monday. Defense Distributed is a non-profit organization founded by University of Texas law student Cody Wilson to "create freely available plans for 3D printable guns."
Wilson received a letter from U.S. State Department on Thursday ordering him to take down the files. It said the department was reviewing Defense Distributed actions for possible violations of regulations adopted under the federal Arms Export Control Act.
Until that review is completed, the letter stated, the files should "be removed from public access immediately."
Wilson did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but he told Forbes that he was taking the files down.
"We have to comply," he told Forbes. "All such data should be removed from public access, the letter says. That might be an impossible standard. But we'll do our part to remove it from our servers."
Nevertheless, the files were online for almost four days--plenty of time for them to be posted elsewhere on the Net. One of those places is the notorious The Pirate Bay, which reportedly offers several torrents of the offending CAD files.
According to TorrentFreak, The Pirate Bay is adamant about keeping the files online. It reported that a Pirate Bay insider told the BitTorrent watching website: "TPB has for close to 10 years been operating without taking down one single torrent due to pressure from the outside. And it will never start doing that."
As much as the State Department may want to control Defense Distributed's technology, it may be too late for that, reasoned Thomas C. Mahlum, a partner with Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi in Minneapolis.
"The problem is jurisdiction," he told PCWorld. "Once it's out there on the Internet, it's available in other countries on servers that are outside the jurisdiction of the United States."
"There really isn't a good mechanism for shutting it down," he added.
This situation illustrates how laws are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with technology, he maintained.
"Laws get written in a reactive way," he said. "They don't really deal well with future technologies and problems that arise from them."
That doesn't keep lawmakers from trying to catch up with tech developments, however. For example, on Tuesday a California state senator announced his intention to file a bill to ban guns made using 3D printing in that jurisdiction.
While 3D printing is fairly new, distributing computer files for manufacturing homebrewed guns isn't. "There's been a community of people who've been trading digital files for guns for over 10 years," Public Knowledge vice president Michael Weinberg told PCWorld.
The files are used to run computer controlled milling machines used to produce metal parts, including gun components, he explained.
"A lot of the work that Defense Distributed is built on is work done in that online gun community," he said.