Myths About Open Source

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These myths are particularly relevant to the work of Open Source Ecology in that they help to clarify some of the issues that we face in making open source hardware widely accessible.

  1. If someone says that their project is open source, then the project must really be open source. Perhaps the most common myth is that non-commercial (NC) licenses, such as Creative Commons Non-Commercial, or the Peer Production License - are open source. Just check the Open Source Hardware Definition to see why NC licenses do not qualify. Yet many people who run NC-licensed projects continue to call their projects open source. Which brings up the second point...
  2. Open Source is a loosely defined, feel-good term. Contrary to common perception, the term open source is a technical term. It has been defined by the Open Source Initiative, and anything that is authentically open source must meet a certain set of conditions which make a product replicable by anyone anywhere in the world. So don't fall into a post-truth error by thinking that open source can be used for anything that looks like it is 'open'. Many people use the term to get the benefit - make their project/product look good - without fulfilling the duties or requirements of actually being open source. See the OSI Definition for the actual requirements that need to be fulfilled in software, and Open Source Hardware Definition for the requirements in hardware. Essentially - the product must be documented so you receive 4 freedoms: to examine the design, copy it, modify it, or sell it.
  3. Expired patents, or patents in general, make a design open source. Once again, if you examine the open source definition as in the last point - you will observe that patents do not make something open source. To be open source, technical details and blueprints, such as CAD files, must be available. Patents lay out only the concepts, and do not make something replicable - contrary to their intent that 'someone skilled in the art' should be able to built something from the patent. Yes, someone can build something from a patent can replicate what's in the patent - but only if they come up with the design blueprints first. Specific blueprints are NOT included in any patent whatsoever. If we go specifically through the 4 requirements or 4 freedoms of open source, we observe that patents do not meet any of them: 1. Patents allow you to examine the concept, but not the actual implementation; 2. You can't copy it because the actual design is not available; 3. You cannot modify it without having a design avaialable - this is an impossibility. 4. You cannot sell it - and in fact, you will be sanctioned legally if you do try to copy and sell it. Expired patents do not give you more access, outside of point 4, where you are allowed to reverse engineer something without from an expired patent without being sued. Thus, the only useful part of patents is that they can assist open source development in studying prior art, so they can be used in the analysis of Industry Standards.
  4. Viral Open Licenses are Anti-Business - Viral open sharing licenses require that derivatives be shared openly. Critics say that this is an anti-incentive for entrepreneurship and it decreases innovation. The more accurate way to describe it is that such licenses are anti-monopoly and anti-greed - where innovation can still happen with Super-Cooperators.


  • Medium article - [1]