[Discuss] interview with Bruce Perens

Matt Maier blueback09 at gmail.com
Thu Jun 12 21:33:43 UTC 2014


*Open source HARDWARE*
by unixisc

*What are your views on Open source hardware? Is it as important as open
source software, or less important, or not important at all?*

*Perens:* Let's please call it Open Hardware, in the interest of simplicity
and good marketing. Unless you are interested in calling it Free-Libre Open
Source Hardware or FLOSSHW. I bet there's somebody that silly.

I think it's important. But there's an important thing we should be aware
of about Open Hardware. It's backwards in a way. Richard Stallman's Free
Software movement opposed software being copyrighted. Copyright does not,
for the most part, apply to hardware designs because they are functional
(read about CAI v. Altai to understand this). Patents apply to hardware
designs, but most Open Hardware designers never pursue a patent on their
designs. What then do they license to others?

It turns out that we have a group of people at CERN, and one of my favorite
lawyers and Yahoo, and even me, trying to add restrictions to something
that is, for the most part, already in the public domain. And it came to me
that this was backwards, and that we could be working against our own
interest that way.

We all get to use the vast body of electronic designs that we've read about
in magazines since the dawn of ham radio. Now, imagine if those were
suddenly copyrighted and under enforceable licenses.

The problem is that when we start licensing things that are actually in the
public domain, we create norms that the courts take seriously. And they
start enforcing licenses on things that could not be licensed before. We
really can write new law when what we do gets to a court case, and we want
to be careful what law that is. If we were responsible for taking hardware
designs from public domain to copyrighted status, we'd be shooting
ourselves in the foot.

So, for a while I was uncomfortable with my own Open Hardware evangelism.
Was I doing the right thing? I think I've worked out the right path now and
will be warning the community about this issue.

There's also a lot of confusion about how effective Open Hardware licenses
are. If you make a 3D printer and you think your license keeps other people
from manufacturing copies, sorry! It does not protect your design unless
you have filed patents. Copyright won't do it. It might keep people from
selling the plans, but not the devices.

We also have a bunch of people who use “CC BY-NC” licenses on their designs
and then call it Open Source Hardware! Funny how eager they are to call it
“Open Source” and then they don't even follow the rules of Open Source.
Open Source includes the right to use in any way. If it's “no commercial
use allowed” like CC BY-NC, it's not Open Source.

So, there's room for a lot of education there.
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