[Discuss] Free Hardware

Matt Maier blueback09 at gmail.com
Thu Mar 12 18:56:58 UTC 2015

Meh. There's never going to be satisfactory closure on the subject of
free/open hardware. The main thing that gives structure to the subject of
free/open software is copyright law and the lucky fact that the rules are
pretty consistent throughout in the world.

Copyright on digital designs for hardware merely helps free/open hardware.
At the end of the day it's the tangible hardware that matters and patent
law is different everywhere.

Software is easier because it exists entirely in a man-made domain (cyber,
computers, digital, etc) where the rules are a lot simpler. Hardware exists
in the natural world where the rules are more complex. Software can be
reproduced and transported at effectively-zero cost but hardware always
costs something. So there's less reason to even explain free-as-in-beer
because obviously the hardware isn't going to be $free. Software is
protected by copyright the instant it's written but hardware is libre the
instant it's built; you have to give away copyright protection but you have
to apply for patent protection. So there's not much reason to talk about
free-as-in-speech because obviously the physical idea is libre.

The only structure comes from 1) copyright on the digital designs and 2)
the principle(s) as understood by each member of the community.

We don't have to add/subtract much from the licenses or conceptual
structure created by the software community.

What we have to do is create a set of cultural norms that encompass all of
the things that help make shared hardware good (public design files, full
documentation, open business models, non-proprietary parts, etc) while
keeping in mind there isn't any way to legally enforce the ideals. Free
software, and even open source software, have ideals that are legally
enforceable. When the valuable thing is tangible the ideals attached to it
are almost totally unenforceable.

Focusing on specific licenses or specific words isn't all that helpful.
Instead we should focus on the ideals and on helping everybody get as close
as possible. That's fundamentally different because it will never be a
settled matter. The courts settled a lot of the big questions in
free/open/libre software; the community will have to keep applying pressure
on the big questions in free/open/libre hardware.

We don't need a bold line dividing "free" from "not free." We need a North
Star defining "perfect freedom" and a willingness to always ask ourselves
if we could get a little closer to it. We also need a cultural norm of
accepting that different people can strive for the ideal, a little or a
lot, using different strategies, and be praised for how close they got
without being condemned for how far away they still are.

On Thu, Mar 12, 2015 at 11:12 AM, Emilio Velis <contacto at emiliovelis.com>

> Just to clarify: "free hardware designs" should be read as:
> Free *hardware designs*
> Not:
> *Free hardware* designs.
> El jueves, 12 de marzo de 2015, Emilio Velis <contacto at emiliovelis.com>
> escribió:
> I'll go back to the original issue at hand: Can hardware be considered
>> "free"? The short answer is "no". RMS is mentioning the four freedoms
>> applied to designs. A private property can still apply within the physical
>> realm.
>> This brings me to an important question: "what is hardware?" If a digital
>> model of a hardware piece applies as hardware, then yes, there is free
>> hardware to which the legal framework allows the application of the four
>> freedoms. If hardware is so necessarily by the existence of a physical
>> layer of content, then no.
>> Which is why "open source" a term that more accurately describes the
>> freedoms within the "source" layer.
>> So, no, RMS.
>> El jueves, 12 de marzo de 2015, Matt Maier <blueback09 at gmail.com>
>> escribió:
>>> In the research I did on it I found a fundamental disconnect that will
>>> always create problems for funding libre work. The primary motivation of
>>> people who do free/open/libre work is pride in solving a hard problem and
>>> the secondary motivation is pride in being known by the community as
>>> someone who solves hard problems.
>>> They/we don't do it for financial reward. The upside is that it's much
>>> more likely to be shared openly. The downside is that boring stuff doesn't
>>> get done.
>>> The primary misunderstanding is that money is not an actor; money is
>>> what actors use to influence other actors. It doesn't make any sense to
>>> talk about money. Instead, talk about the actors. It's easy enough to
>>> identify the developers who need/want money, but the money doesn't just
>>> appear. The money comes from other actors. So who are those other actors
>>> and why would they want to influence the developers with money? Just as
>>> importantly, why would the developers be influenced by the money? That also
>>> helps explain why money is sometimes irrelevant, or even counterproductive,
>>> as in free/libre/open work. It's not about the money, it's about the actors
>>> influencing each other, and they can do that in ways that don't involve
>>> money.
>>> For example, if the community made a point of praising the developers
>>> who do boring work, like refining user interfaces, or updating
>>> documentation, more developers would do those things. If the community got
>>> together and demonstrated there's a need/market for some free/libre/open
>>> thing that doesn't exist yet more developers would start projects for that
>>> thing. Anybody who's good enough to be critical to a free/libre/open
>>> project is good enough to have a day job. That's not the problem. It's the
>>> community's lack of focus and short attention span that's the problem.
>>> On Thu, Mar 12, 2015 at 9:13 AM, Javier Serrano <Javier.Serrano at cern.ch>
>>> wrote:
>>>> On 03/12/2015 04:35 PM, Nancy Ouyang wrote:
>>>> > Anyway, I'm pretty distressed by the millions of dollars being poured
>>>> > into closed-source 123D, Circuitmaker, OnShape and the continued lack
>>>> of
>>>> > interoperability in circuit design land. (also in my opinion we should
>>>> > explicitly search for UI/design contributors... I think prioritizing
>>>> > usability could even give open-source tools a lead in EDA).
>>>> I think that's only part of the problem. So far as the baker in my
>>>> neighborhood insists on getting euros in exchange for his baguettes, I
>>>> will need to find a way to be paid for at least some of my work :) The
>>>> same is true for the developers of KiCad, FreeCAD and other free
>>>> software tools for hardware design. These tools have gotten to an
>>>> incredible state in terms of features and quality, given the almost
>>>> complete absence of monetary rewards for the work people put in, but
>>>> they still have a long way to go. You can only prioritize usability, as
>>>> you suggest, if you have people ready to do the coding. There is a limit
>>>> to what people will do for free-as-in-beer, not because they are greedy
>>>> (an otherwise very human condition) but because they need to eat, pay
>>>> rents, dress kids, etc. If we find a way to inject even a small fraction
>>>> of the millions of dollars you mention into free tool development, I
>>>> think the results could be game-changing. Maybe OSHWA could play a role
>>>> here, as the FSF did with the development of gcc, emacs and other
>>>> components necessary for the development of free software.
>>>> Cheers,
>>>> Javier
>>>> _______________________________________________
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>>>> discuss at lists.oshwa.org
>>>> http://lists.oshwa.org/listinfo/discuss
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