Any specialists on Open Source licenses?


I appreciate you saving everyone’s inboxes from blowing up, but @amchagas definitely repost the thread here once you’re done. Having searched the interweb a lot on the topic, I know there are so few intelligent, well informed discussions about open source licenses in hardware (let alone science hardware) on the web. I think in discussing this you’re actually creating a really valuable resource for others interested in the topic: let’s make sure it’s available for them to find! It’s also critical for GOSH as a movement and therefore pertinent to this forum.

If someone has a good blog on medium or something, it may be worth reposting or summarizing there as well.

When smart and well respected people disagree, it’s usually worth reading :slight_smile: Thanks everyone.


Why? Why not leave it as a public thread so anyone can contribute/learn?


This thread started as a “call” for people that could help create a small overview on open source licenses for a 30 min lecture for a specific course. But than a more interesting discussion started to happen, and in order to let that flow, we thought about moving the original idea to direct messages (with the option of people joining if they want to) and than share it back once we had something more concrete… We can make it a thread as well, but then it might diverge again… :stuck_out_tongue:


Thanks for jumping in on the thread @AndrewKatz and for the detailed explanation. I do think it will take me a lot more time to get to grips with all of this.

To me the freedom to "rip off’ designs is underrated, I think it’s fundamental to a thriving open source eco system, and having the OHL proven in court would undermine it and indirectly hamper people’s existing freedoms rather than give them new ones.

I don’t have much to back it up, no. My concern stems from thinking that the world is better off when people are able to make physical things without having to worry about copyright. I suppose I am still confused about how we could possibly have copyleft in an area where copyright largely doesn’t apply. I think @Javier and @AndrewKatz have done a good job explaining things but I can’t quite get that aspect straight in my head. I would love to hear Bruce Perens thoughts on it because they could likely articulate their concerns much better than I can.

That is what I thought before but it’s good to hear from you. What I am worried about mostly though is that in a legally gray area, law that is highly dependent on jurisdiction, enforcing the OHL could start to define something which at the moment is not defined.

In the UK for instance we operate on case law so, as I understand it, previous rulings on cases form the basis of our current law. If the law doesn’t specify anything or is otherwise ambigious on copyrightable hardware I worry it would come down to case law in many jurisdictions. Reading this blog post by first put this concern into my mind (just noticed that this is Eli Greenbaum again):

But it turns out that there are a number of Israeli court decisions that nonchalantly apply copyright law to protect physical circuits. (…) The court found for the plaintiff, stating without much reasoning that the then-current copyright statute protected the PCB itself as well as the drawings of the circuit

I think a good excercise to clear things up for me would be to try and write the anti-OHL: a “proprietary” hardware license that stipulates restrictions on reverse engineering and manufacturing based on a similar mechanism as the OHL, then think about whether it would be enforceable. Better not release it into the wild though. :smile:


Hi Andre
I am interested!


Please, please don’t take existing threads and make them private. In fact, in the spirit of openness, don’t make anything private. If I am not interested, I will simply not read the thread, but let us stop increasing the impedance to participation by having to ask for invites.


On this matter, the last I have seen from Bruce in a public forum is in this thread in the CERN OHL mailing list. That was more than 3 years ago. Since then we have discussed either through private email or in person (last time in Brazil last year). CERN OHL is a bit like an open source project itself. It benefits greatly from people who bring in a critical perspective and are willing to spend some time with the authors in order to improve it. Bruce is definitely somebody I contact whenever I have a new idea on how to transpose copyleft to the hardware realm. He always brings in original reasoned arguments. We need more of that, so your contribution is very welcome!


Thanks for the great discussion here on open source hardware licensing issues. I’m familiar with the issues around open source software (in terms of copyright), can appreciate how that doesn’t 100% apply directly to hardware, but I’m still trying to understand the thread so far and the linked articles.

One basic question I have is the role prior art plays in all this:

Let’s say I release my hardware design in full detail under, say, a Creative Commons license (e.g. CC BY). In fact, let’s say for the sake of argument I make this document look just like a patent description. My understanding so far is that the license would apply to the document describing the design and not the design itself, OK. However, wouldn’t this document become prior art for patent purposes which prevents others from patenting this invention? If so, then wouldn’t publishing my design be functionally releasing my “invention” under a “permissive” open source license ala BSD, Apache, or MIT? Or am I misunderstanding the role of prior art in patent law? And does civil vs common law make a difference here? (of course, this wouldn’t solve the copyleft issue, which seems to be the main problem?)


Yes, the only real reason for explicit patent grants is if you do have patents relating to your design. However, putting in a patent grant in any case puts people’s mind at ease as they don’t have to worry about whether you have patents on the design or not. Apache provides this but BSD and MIT do not. BSD and MIT do provide an implicit patent grant. (I.e. they say: “do whatever you please with the files” which presumably also means make use of patented ideas. I don’t think this has ever been tested in court though.)

I don’t think so. In the case of patents everything is much clearer. If you do have a patent you could easily apply a “patent left” license and the OHL would likely work to that effect. I think the main point of contention is what the OHL means when no one owns patents on the covered works. I.e. what is and what should be the extent of copyright when it comes to hardware?


I’m bringing this thread back to life because while doing some research for my thesis I found this article by @AndrewKatz super useful:

A Survey of Open Processor Core Licensing

PDF is available in that link.