Kim Dotcom has ordered the removal from his Mega file-storage service design plans for a controversial one-bullet plastic gun.
The decision seems an unlikely one for Dotcom, who has become somewhat of an Internet folk hero for fiercely contesting criminal copyright infringement charges levied by US prosecutors over his former Megaupload service.
The legal uncertainty over the distribution of the CAD (computer-aided design) files by Defense Distributed led Dotcom to err on the side of caution while the legal issues around the weapon are discussed, his lawyer, Ira P. Rothken, said Monday.
"I think it's fair to say that we don't need to do a very complex legal analysis to understand that we are dealing with an issue of first impression regarding printing plans for 3-D guns," Rothken said. A case of first impression means there is no precedent for the legal issue at hand in a specific court.
Defense Distributed, based in Austin, Texas, removed links to design files for the plastic gun, dubbed the "Liberator," and other plastic weapon components including silencers from its website after a request from the US State Department.
The US government said in a letter to Defense Distributed that it is reviewing if publishing the files violates weapons-export regulations.
Defense Distributed's website now carries the notice: "DEFCAD files are being removed from public access at the request of the US Department of Defense Trade Controls. Until further notice, the United States government claims control of the information."
The company's website, defcad.org, had linked to the Liberator's CAD files on Mega. Rothken said defcad.org's link included the decryption key in the file's URL, which would allow anyone to view the files.
A file uploaded to Mega is encrypted within a person's web browser before it is sent to Mega's servers. A password is required to decrypt files, but a user may choose to make a file public and accessible by including the encryption key within the browser's URL.
Mega has not been contacted by the US government requesting that the Liberator files be deleted, Rothken said. If Mega had hosted the Liberator's file outside the US, the country's law would not apply. Rothken said the locations of Mega's servers are confidential.
While the export regulations are being evaluated, "the prudent thing to do under those circumstances given the potential security risks to society was to err on the side of caution and remove the file," Rothken said.
Since the Liberator's design was released on May 6, it is now widely available, including on the file-sharing search engine The Pirate Bay.
Dotcom hinted on Twitter that he doesn't like guns. On Friday, he wrote: "Print guitars not guns. Make love not war. Use #Mega not Dropbox."
"I think he was just voicing his view about the potential use of the data, not the actual storage of data," Rothken said.
Rothken said Mega is going "to keep all options open" when asked if the company will remove other links to Defense Distributed designs hosted on Mega that are publicly posted. But Mega will not hire a "warehouse of people" to do real-time searches over the Internet to remove the content, he said.
The Liberator was created with a Stratasys Dimension SST 3D printer, which builds objects through layers of sprayed plastic. The only piece of metal is the firing pin, but the design does contain a place where metal can be inserted so the gun would set off a metal detector.
US lawmakers, however, have voiced concerns that plastic weapons such as the Liberator could present a new threat to public safety.
Dotcom remains in New Zealand. An extradition hearing is scheduled for August as the US pursues him and other Megaupload colleagues on charges of criminal copyright infringement, money laundering racketeering and fraud.