3D printing is not without controversy, though, and has proved to be a challenge for law makers in the US, who ordered designs for a 3D gun to be taken down.
The design was downloaded 100,000 times before it was made unavailable. However, it is thought those files have been copied and redistributed many thousands of more times. The gun itself, called the Liberator, offered by US company Defense Distributed, is relatively crude and inaccurate and there is a possibility it will explode in your hand if you don’t put it together properly.
But that is not what the US authorities are worried about. It is only a matter of time before a more effective weapon is made available and – a concern for law enforcement – it is a simple matter to render the weapons, made from plastic, undetectable.
Criminals today have to source weapons if they wish to arm themselves, but in the future they may simply download as many as they like.
It won’t matter how isolated they are, nor will they even need access to the internet if they have the file saved on a memory stick. Indeed, there are a number of challenges that 3D printing throws up for governments and law makers. The illegal downloading of music destroyed the old business model of producing and distributing music. It took a long time for the music industry to catch up and drag back some of the profits it once took for granted. Therefore think of a world where the illegal downloading of pharmaceutical drugs, engine parts, computer accessories, clothes, jewellery, tools and almost anything else you haven’t thought of yet is as commonplace as the illegal downloading of Madonna’s newest album was a few years ago.
It may sound far-fetched but the technology already exists, costs are bringing it into the reach of ordinary people and the consequences are obvious, if not in the next decade then certainly in the next two or three. The music industry walked blindly into the jungle but it is likely governments will react far more quickly to the new technology now, and businesses wishing to take advantage need to keep up with and anticipate changes if they are to gain a head start over later arrivals. There has already been a rush to patent inventions and any design that quite independently seeks to solve the same problem may be subject to patent infringement, especially if successful and reproduced on a mass scale. Patents are harder to come by, however, than copyright and have shorter durations.