[Discuss] quick blog post on possible misconceptions re: Certification proposal

Matt Maier blueback09 at gmail.com
Thu Oct 1 05:18:46 UTC 2015

On Wed, Sep 30, 2015 at 9:39 PM, abram connelly <abram.connelly at gmail.com>

> So, in your mind, what are the core issues that certification is trying to
>> solve?
> In my mind, certification is trying to give a guarantee that hardware with
> an open source hardware certification has its design files, along with
> supporting material, is available under a free license, as described in
> http://www.oshwa.org/definition/.
>> Personally, I think we should have clarity on what OSHW should be, but
>> I'm against fines. I'm also against co-opting terms that describe the broad
>> community to refer to what is, by definition, a subset of the community.
>> The general point of open source hardware is to just share your work with
>> others, so anyone who does that is part of the community. The more effort
>> they put into it, and the more they give away, the better. It's silly that
>> most of the "open source" software on Github doesn't actually have a
>> license, and is therefore not open source at all, but it doesn't mean the
>> people who intend for their work to be shared are not part of the open
>> source software community in spirit. Same for hardware.
> In terms of code on GitHub, without a license it is not free for use
> without explicit consent from the author.  Source code without a license is
> not in the spirit of free and open source as it can't be used without
> consent.  The point of the license is to indicate to the public that
> consent is given without explicitly asking for it.  Not putting an open
> source license on your code precisely means the software is not open
> source.  Code is open source by putting an open source license on the
> code.  Sharing your code so that others can look at it is not the same as
> allowing for its use by others.

The thing is that, it IS in the same spirit because only companies worry
about getting in trouble for looking at, reproducing, or learning from code
that is shared. Private developers just share. That's why there's a push to
get people to apply licenses to their code, but it isn't a deal breaker. If
a company really wants to do something with it they'll work out a license
with the creator. In the rest of the cases people seem to just not worry
about it much. The simple fact that someone posted their human-readable
source code on a public repository means that they are okay with other
people looking at and copying that code at a bare minimum, which is in the
spirit of FOSS. If someone posts .stl's and instructions to build a RepRap
to the wiki, then clearly they are okay with other people using those files
even if they didn't explicitly post a license alongside the files. The
spirit of the community is there.

> If a company uses free and open source software and does not provide that
> source to the community they are most certainly subject to legal
> ramifications.  Part of the job of the FSF is to make sure that bad actors
> don't get away with violating the GPL.  I imagine there would also be legal
> ramifications for a company that attaches a GPL license to their product
> but that does not release their source code.
> The point of open source hardware is not just to share your work with
> others but to make sure that work can be used by others.  The enforcement
> portion of the certification is to make sure companies who claim to follow
> the open source hardware principles actually do so.  I believe the
> logistics of how this is enforced are very reasonable, starting with an
> attempt at communication and allowing the offending party to correct the
> issue without progressive action.

That's the thing, open source HARDWARE is actually fundamentally different
from software. The licenses are the thing that make it "open source" and
they do not apply to hardware at all. Not even a little bit. You are ALWAYS
free to do whatever you want with the hardware (short of something that's
patented, which is uncommon). It's the design files that can have
copyrights. Ironically, because hardware is so much harder to work with
than software, it's unusual for someone to actually publish enough detail
for other people to use their work. That's why open hardware is still
mostly recognized in electronics because almost all of the details of the
hardware can be specified in one file.

We're having a hard enough time getting people to fully document their work
that the most common reason someone's work isn't "truly" open source is
simply that it isn't documented well enough. The license doesn't even
matter if there isn't enough material to license. So the core, which is
sharing, is always important because it's the first step on the path to
open source. Getting people over the hump of documentation will mean more
to open source than licensing.

I haven't gone into business for myself, but I assume a big part of the
reasons companies are falling short on being truly open source is that good
documentation is hard and there isn't an obvious connection between doing
all that documentation and making more money.

> We have to start somewhere with a definition and the principles as laid
> out by the open source hardware association seem reasonable to me.  Open
> source hardware has its own set of constraints and certification is a step
> towards in keeping with the spirit of the ideals of free and open source.
> The certification is an attempt to make sure companies that claim to
> operate in the spirit of openness actually do so.

Yeah, that makes sense. It's a subset of the broader community that wants
constraints enforced. I just think the distinction needs to be clearly
labeled. Anyone who tries to share is part of the open source community.
Putting more effort into it should allow them to further qualify it, like
by publishing everything, and using an OSHW license, and even OSHWA
certification. But trying to shrink "the community" to only the actors who
are serious enough to track rules and fines is artificial and will simply
be ignored by the actual community.

> On Wed, Sep 30, 2015 at 5:47 PM, abram connelly <abram.connelly at gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>>> This post is really great, thanks for making it.
>>> I think a lot of people get turned off when there's standards
>>> committees, organizations and other bureaucratic infrastructure mentioned,
>>> especially with a hacker friendly type of crowd.  Though there still is a
>>> lot of FUD w.r.t. free and open source, it used to be a lot worse.  I think
>>> the same type of thing is happening with open hardware (and certification)
>>> now and that it can get better in the future.
>>> I think explaining in terms of what it is, why it was created and what
>>> the implications are goes a long way towards this. At the risk of kicking
>>> the hornets nest, I think posts like Boldport's "The license is the
>>> license" (
>>> http://www.boldport.com/blog/2015/9/22/the-license-is-the-license) are
>>> really misguided and confused about what the certification is proposing to
>>> solve.  I also think it's important to reach out to the members of the open
>>> hardware community that don't typically get a lot of attention and make
>>> sure their voices are heard and concerns addressed.  Maybe a FAQ could be
>>> written up addressing some of these issues?  One that lists some of the
>>> common concerns that have been coming up, in Boldport's post, the HaD
>>> comments and elsewhere?  Maybe it could even be put up on a GitHub page so
>>> that anyone could suggest additions by making pull requests (there's always
>>> a Wiki as an alternative as well)?
>>> Hardware is a different beast than software. I think we need to make
>>> sure people understand why we have these mechanisms in place for open
>>> hardware and why it needs to be different from the software license model.
>>> For me, addressing the core issues of what the certification is trying to
>>> solve and the motivation behind it is crucial for understanding.  I think
>>> your article is a great and hopefully it's a start of a larger trend of
>>> pushing back against a lot of misunderstanding!
>>> -Abram
>>> On Wed, Sep 30, 2015 at 3:21 PM, Jeffrey Warren <jeff at publiclab.org>
>>> wrote:
>>>> Hi, all -- I dumped some of my thoughts on the certification into a
>>>> post on my blog:
>>>> http://unterbahn.com/2015/09/misconceptions-about-oshwas-open-source-hardware-certification-v1/
>>>> IMO, there's plenty to worry about (or to work hard to do properly)
>>>> without having to worry about some of these red herrings. Interested to
>>>> hear folks thoughts.
>>>> In particular I've been very interested in making it clear that not
>>>> certifying does not mean your project is not open source hardware. It
>>>> seemed very clear to me, but from comments "out there" I gather that that's
>>>> not 100% understood.
>>>> +1 clarity!
>>>> Jeff
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