Open Source Hardware License

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Why Open Source Hardware?

In the context of climate change and open source ecology open source hardware is important because 2/3rds "developing world" peoples and people who want to "buy out at the bottom", need the freedom (gratis) to copy "low-carbon" hardware and industrial processes to provide a right livelihood for themselves.

The biggest problem with open source hardware: It may be gratis to copy hardware, but it certainly is not free. Hardware, unlike software, costs money to copy- material costs. Therefore, we have to contend with the issue of equity and access to the capital to copy machinery.

For an in-depth exploration of the legal issues of open source hardware see Toward Open Source Hardware by John Ackermann.

GNU Public License (GPL)

Quick Guide to GPLv3

Most machines and processes are protected by patent, not licensing, laws. The designs of hardware are protected under copyright, and are therefore protected under copyleft, but the actual hardware is not. A corporation can copy the hardware and commercialize it without OSE attribution or continuation of the right to copy the hardware and we have no legal recourse. In fact, at that point, in countries with a first-to-file and not a first-to-invent patenting regime they could even patent our work and prevent us from doing any further work on the project.

GPL and copyleft licensing doesn't function operationally for hardware, but it's better than nothing or an overly-expensive patent. A corporation can simply sell a piece of OSE hardware without attribution or open documentation because GPL only protects the publishing and copying of DESIGNS. However, a GNU public license can ensure that people are:

  • free to use the designs for any purpose (including commercial),
  • free to change the designs to suit your needs,
  • free to share the designs with your friends and neighbors, and
  • free to share the changes you make.

Because the GPL is infectious (or viral, the license continues down any modifications or forks) these protections last for the entire life of the core design!

TAPR Open Hardware License (OHL)

Open Source Patenting

See Also

There are useful contacts on open hardware licensing here: