Unless you have been vacationing on the dark side of the moon today, you probably have seen that the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (“DDTC”) told Defense Distributed to take down the plans that it had posted for producing a crappy plastic handgun using an expensive 3-D printer. You can read the letter by clicking this link.
Not surprisingly, DDTC takes the position that these plans are technical data relating to an article in Category I of the USML and that putting the plans on the Internet is an export of that technical data. Of course, whether these plans are technical data may not be entirely clear given the public domain exception to the definition of technical data. Detailed gun schematics are available in numerous widely available publications and all over the Internet. A Google search, for example, quickly brings up these schematics.
But leaving aside whether or not these plans are controlled technical data that cannot be put on the Internet without a DDTC license, this whole brouhaha seems to be a waste of time by DDTC. Real guns that won’t blow up in your hand, can fire multiple shots before falling apart, and which can be much more cheaply manufactured are readily available outside the United States, so the danger posed by exporting these plans is, well, non-existent. Foreign militaries aren’t very likely to abandon their AK47s now that they can print their own plastic handguns. Worse yet, the plans had apparently been downloaded more than a 100,000 times before the Feds dropped the ban hammer. There is no way that DDTC can now stuff all that toothpaste back in the tube.
Finally, the DDTC letter seems to concede some uncertainty about whether the plans are technical data. Instead of simply demanding the removal of the plans and threatening enforcement action, the letter requests that Defense Distributed file a commodity jurisdiction request to “resolve” the “proper jurisdiction” of the technical data “officially.” So, stay tuned, this affair is far from over.