Sunday, March 03, 2013

Of DRM and 3D printing

Almost seven years ago (April 2006) in a post discussing the future of 3D printing, I wrote :-

"I'm a great believer in human creativity, and hence I would wish to avoid a a future where when the technology is widely available it is crippled to only allow "approved" designs to be printed - under a DRM for objects - for intrenched financial positions masquerading as consumer concerns (security, safety etc)."

I thought I would revisit this in light of recent development regarding 3D printing of automatic weapon parts as reported on the BBC.

First, the impacts of 3D printing (nee the commoditisation of the manufacturing process) are well known, documented and understood. For my tongue in cheek version, see here. There is nothing about this transformation which should surprise anyone as it has been entirely predictable for the last decade. Yes, some companies will be disrupted by this entirely predictable market change but that will simply be due to the failure of their executives to plan for it. Of course, the old excuse of "innovator's dilemma" will be dragged out.

However, what I wish to focus on is not this but instead the current concerns about people being able to 3D print automatic weapons. When I wrote the post seven years ago, this is what I expected to happen and the "concerns" are almost certainly not motivated by safety. If you really want to control harm then learn the old lesson that guns don't kill people, bullets do and tax, regulate and control the materials used to make the projectiles.

The concerns over people "3D printing weapons" is simply the vehicle by which demands for legislation on 3D printing will be introduced. This will be almost entirely from existing "financial positions masquerading as consumer concerns". The calls for DRM on physical object manufacturing are simply about protecting existing business interests and extending IP protection.

This will probably kick off in earnest in the US, a country enthralled to IP despite missing the fact that its economy is rapidly being caught and soon to be overtaken by China, a country which has a more measured approach.

Anyway, just so you're prepared. Expect lots more articles on the dangers of 3D printing, endless press briefings, lobbyist at work even to the extent of trying to manufacture dangerous examples then the normal hue and cry for legislation and DRM for "our safety". 

There will be some accidents, in much the same way that I'm sure home made devices using traditional methods (chisel, saws etc) have caused some harm. Just remember that this is not about your protection but about protecting existing financial positions from the oncoming storm.

If you want to know how insane this will get, well when I wrote the mildly humorous joke of DRM and Pizza back in Nov 2005, I was only half kidding. Somewhere, some lunatic is probably working on this idea.