The big wigs at the Recording Industry Association of America thought their lives were made difficult by MP3 piracy, and the Motion Picture Association of America is still battling movie piracy, but the next generation of digital pirates will be downloading tangible, physical things. Artistic and functional pieces can be easily printed, and the DIY and maker communities have been supplementing day-to-day purchases with 3D printers for a few years. As more 3D printers find their homes on desktops everywhere, there will be a surge of people scouring the internet to see what they can print rather than buy. But what if what they’re looking for is protected by patent or copyright, or banned by repositories or the state?
Maybe Billy wants to print a gun. Perhaps Sally wants to print a vase designed by Martha Stewart. While printing guns remains legal in the United States, the State Department has made it clear that openly distributing the files online will not be tolerated. And Thingiverse has banned firearm files on their servers. Of course, you know you don’t want to mess with Martha Stewart. But Billy and Sally really want their guns and pots. If only they could download the files discretely.
Enter Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, creative technologist for Goldsmith College’s Interaction Research Studio at the University of London. After iMaterialize refused to print a remix of Mickey Mouse that Plummer-Fernandez designed, he reflected on the Thingiverse gun ban and decided to do something about it. “I was confronting all these taboos showing up in 3D-printing around copyrighted material and 3D-printed weapons, and I think these services are leaving their users out to dry. I wanted to think of a way to circumvent these problems.” That circumvention is Disarming Corruptor.
If you didn’t watch the video, it’s a free app that algorithmically distorts digital models so that they can’t be identified visually. The only way to reconstitute a “corrupted” object is to input the seven unique numbers between 1 and 100 that were used in the distortion algorithms, and only the person that distorted the object knows those numbers. Plummer-Fernandez is a philosophical dude:
“Disarming Corruptor is a tool for making reversible damage to your STL mesh file. This means you can obliterate it into something totally unrecognisable, share it online under its new guise, and selectively distribute the key code to recipients so they can reverse the damage and retrieve the original object… When patent trolls and law enforcement agencies find these files on sharing sites they will only see abstract contortions, but within the trusting community these files will still represent the objects they are looking for, purposely in need of repair. It could also be used to symbolically decommission files and throw away the keys, or to make something inoperative yet still recognisable so that other users would have to request a key to put it into use.”
I like that “purposely in need of repair.” Fascinating that the digital realm allows objects to be corrupted for their own proliferation. Obviously Thingiverse and other repositories could ban corrupted files, but it’d be a serious undertaking. And that has no effect on Pirate Bay and the rest of the torrent world. It’s entirely possible that a new repository is established just for corrupted models.