Academic journal article Journal of Law, Technology and the Internet

Ready, Print, Fire! Regulating the 3d-Printing Revolution

Academic journal article Journal of Law, Technology and the Internet

Ready, Print, Fire! Regulating the 3d-Printing Revolution

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

On May 3, 2013, the first completely plastic 3D-printed gun was fired. (1) It was printed with a melted polymer material on an $8,000 printer. (2) The gun fired one shot and then exploded into shards. (3) Less than three weeks later another individual using a cheaper, stronger polymer and a printer that was a quarter of the cost, printed a different plastic gun. (4) This gun fired nine consecutive rounds. (5) In March of 2015, Mr. Joseph DeSimone gave a TED Talk entitled What if 3D Printing was 100x Faster? (6). During the 15-minute talk he printed a complex, golf ball-sized object that consisted of "concentric geodesic structures (7) with linkages between each structure." (8) The object is impossible to manufacture using traditional manufacturing methods, including molding and milling. (9) Where a typical 3D printer would have taken three hours or more to print the object, Mr. DeSimone demonstrated that newer 3D printing technology could print the object in less than seven minutes. (10) These just a few examples that demonstrate how quickly 3D-printing technology is advancing.

Today a 3D printer costs less than $500 and can print nearly any object modeled with three-dimensional modeling software. (11) The widespread availability of 3D printers combined with the ability to print objects subject to legal restrictions, for example guns and drugs, demanded the attention of governments around the world, (12) and some have already taken action. In 2015, New South Whales, Australia enacted a bill that made it a crime to possess "digital blueprints for the manufacture of firearms on 3D-printers." (13) Additionally, in 2013 Philadelphia became the first U.S. city to enact an ordinance prohibiting the 3D printing of firearms or firearm parts by anyone not licensed by the Attorney General to manufacture firearms under 18 U.S.C. [section] 923(a). (14) Although these actions appear to be primarily concerned with the unregistered manufacture of firearms, 3D printing presents other significant issues that governments should consider. These include dangers associated with the 3D printing of weapons other than firearms (15) and its implication to commercial air travel, the health risks associated with the ability to 3D print food (16) and drugs, (17) and the industrial safety and health hazards that may arise with 3D printing's enablement of home-based manufacturing, which some claim is the basis of the next industrial revolution. (18) Though some lawmakers took steps to address one of the many issues that 3D printing presents, the revolutionary nature of the technology suggests a broader question: what approach, if any, should be taken to manage the broader set of risks associated with 3D printing?

To address this question, this Article argues that governments ought to proactively consider preemptive legislative or regulatory actions regarding 3D printing. The primary considerations should be to ensure that as 3D printing technology evolves, existing laws are not circumvented; that the technology does not put the health and safety of the public at risk; and that it does not sacrifice national security. This is not to suggest a knee-jerk reaction to uncertain or imaginary dangers, but rather an approach that permits lawmakers to react meaningfully and efficiently to real dangers as they manifest themselves, while not impeding innovation in 3D printing and supporting technologies.

To accomplish this objective this Article looks at the concepts of "permissionless innovation" and the "precautionary principle." (19) These concepts represent opposing ends of the regulatory spectrum; the former promoting a "wait-and-see" approach while the latter promotes a preemptive or preventative approach to government regulation. (20) After defining these terms the Article will describe the characteristics of technologies that lend themselves either to permissionless innovation or to the precautionary principle. …

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