Fake Open Source

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Open Source is not a loose term, which in common parlance tends to be reduced in meaning to 'something cool.' Instead, Open Source is a technical term defined by the Open Source Initiative in its Open Source Definition.

From the perspective of open source ecology, fake open source refers to parties claiming or implying that their work is open source, as defined by the Open Source Hardware Definition, when in reality it is not. Fake open source does not apply to companies that were formerly open source but turned proprietary - as long as the proprietary company makes no claims of being open source. An example of the latter is Makerbot, which used to be open source, but has since declared itself to be proprietary - and is making no claims about being open source.

Open source claimed by someone as open source is not open source if:

  • First and foremost - If it restricts commercial use, such as by the NC Clause in Creative Commons licenses - it is not open source according to the OSHWA definition.
  • Note that making money provides a positive feedback loop for people to make livelihood based on open source. This is one of the 4 points that consistute the Open Source Definition. This right should not be abridged if we care about general human welfare. In practice, when someone uses open source there is a good chance that they will contribute to a project out of good will. Thus, people should be encouraged to participate by allowing them to use content for commercial purposes. Livelihood based on open source is a good thing. There are still many who will contribute to NC projects, but only in the capacity of a hobbyist - not one whose livelihood comes from participating. When you contribute to an NC enterprise, that enterprise is privatizing your public contribution.
  • There is no documentation. Someone could claim that they are open source as much as they want - but if they can't point you at a public repository where you can freely download documentation or design - their work is not really open source.
  • Their design documentation consists of patents. Patents are already open source in that they are on the public record. However, patents do not show actual designs, they show mechanisms and concepts that are covered in the patent. Thus, if somene says they release all their patents as open source, if they do not make their actaul CAD files, technical drawings, etc, public- then they are not really open source.
  • Someone tells you that their work is open source but there is no formal, written declaration - on the internet or elsewhere - that the work is open source. Stay away from such people due to legal risk. If you use their work and the author changes their mind, the legal liability lies on you to defend yourself from infringing on their license.
  • Someone tells you that their work will be open source. Whether or not it will really be open source only time will tell, and for present purposes, it is not open source yet.


The official database of open source certified projects is discussed here - http://www.oshwa.org/2016/11/07/open-source-hardware-certification-ids-are-live/


  • OpenROV - doesn't meet OSHWA Definition as their hardware has the NC Clause.
  • n55 - bicycle license is also NC
  • Tesla Motors - what does it mean that they are 'releasing their patents as open source?' Unless the designs are available under an OSHWA compliant license, they are not open source.