[Discuss] curious statement on github about oshwa certiification

Lukas Winter winter4lukas at gmail.com
Fri Jul 8 15:33:28 UTC 2016

Thanks for the interesting discussion and hello to all OSHWA members (I am
new here). I completely agree with Matt, things need to be explained over
and over again and the licensing choice is not trivial due to many reasons.
I am a researcher and we recently started an endeavor to build an open
source MRI and to advertise/motivate/collaborate open source projects in
(but not restricted to) our research community (www.opensourceimaging.org).

One of the first questions was how can I publish open source from my
Berlin, Germany based research institution. While privately I could close
an eye or two taking some legal risks like many people do, our legal
department wants to be safe. So one of the questions we had was the
liability issue regarding the CERN OHL. According to german law the CERN
OHL disclaimer is not enough. We had some discussion about it with David
Mazur from CERN (Javier couldn't make to the phone call) and eventually we
will be using a combination of the CERN OHL plus some extra disclaimer to
cover what can be covered by german law. Using this approach we wanted to
avoid adding another open source hardware license to the zoo, which is not
beneficial to the community. We will make a more detailed post on our
choice of license + disclaimer on the website in near future. However I am
not a lawyer so I am not sure if these add ons apply also to other European
countries and how liability works in the US. In general liability is
definitely an issue when you want to motivate researchers or research
institutions where the researchers are contracted to post sth OS. However
that can be changed and it would be in particular interesting to use the
resources of the legal departments that research institutions have access
to and to provide a solid legal ground for licensing open source hardware.
Everyone else would profit from that as well.

Does anyone know if a platform already exists that exchanges/collects
country based legal solutions regarding these issues? I think this would
help a lot if you can just click a few times based on your licensing
wishes/needs and get a OS license presented with some example projects that
are also applying it. This would remove fear, and fear prevents progress.

Lukas Winter

On Fri, Jul 8, 2016 at 2:35 PM, Matt Maier <blueback09 at gmail.com> wrote:

> Javier, no worries. I thought you were just expanding on my explanation.
> We need to keep explaining this stuff, over and over again, because most
> of the people who want to participate in open source (whether software,
> hardware, whateverware) never bother to license anything. Open source
> software has a problem with that even though it's a couple decades old.
> People just publicize and use; they don't license and they don't check
> licenses.
> However, companies (ie: lawyers) obsessively check licenses. Open source
> software has gotten away with it for so long because the costs are so low.
> If open source hardware wants to be taken seriously it needs to be used in
> business, which means companies (ie: lawyers) need to have certainty on its
> status. The thing is that hardware is inherently more expensive than
> software, so we probably have to get this licensing thing to happen in more
> of the community faster. Otherwise it just won't be low enough risk for
> companies to invest dollars and years in.
> So we'll have to keep explaining it at various levels of complexity
> because it takes more than one explanation to get it all.
> On Fri, Jul 8, 2016 at 3:28 PM, Javier Serrano <Javier.Serrano at cern.ch>
> wrote:
>> On 07/08/2016 02:08 PM, Javier Serrano wrote:
>> > On 07/08/2016 01:37 PM, Matt Maier wrote:
>> >> ... so "hardware licenses" in open source hardware aren't nearly as
>> >> useful as open source software licenses.
>> >
>> > Of course licensors and licensees should bear in mind that while the end
>> > product in software (the binary) is subject to copyright law, the end
>> > product in hardware (the piece of hardware) isn't in most cases.
>> > However, I can look at the sources of the Linux kernel and write my own
>> > functionally equivalent kernel from scratch using everything I learnt,
>> > without infringing the GPL that protects the sources of the original
>> > kernel, exactly the same process you described for hardware. So the
>> > difference is not so big after all.
>> Sorry Matt, I agree with you more than I managed to convey. Most of the
>> economic activity in both software and hardware involves distribution of
>> products (binaries in the case of software, or tangible products in the
>> case of hardware). Because (simplifying quite a bit here) tangible
>> products are not subject to copyright, you cannot in principle attach
>> obligations to the act of distributing them. That's a big difference.
>> Cheers,
>> Javier
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