About Lenore

Co-founder of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories

Open Discussion: Best Practice for Mislabeled Open Source Projects?

non-oshw

In looking around for examples of great open source hardware projects, we came across an unexpected number of projects and products labeled as open source hardware that, upon closer inspection, actually turn out not to meet the definition. Often, they’re using an inappropriate license— typically a “non-commercial license,” which is not only unenforceable but explicitly incompatible with open source values. Sometimes, they haven’t released the design files. Sometimes, a person has apparently misused the term “open source” to mean “closed and proprietary.” And sometimes you might see the open hardware logo used without any substance to back it up.

But what (if anything) can or should be done about it? We’d like to solicit your input as to the best ways to approach this problem.  Perhaps there are not any easy answers.

As a baseline, we think that it’s important to address the problem, and to do so earlier rather than later. To mislabel a product for sale as open source hardware may constitute false advertising, illegal in the US under state and federal law. In noncommercial projects where nothing is for sale, misusing the terms may help to set precedent that can damage the community’s understanding of open source. For instance, if enough people see non-commercial licenses on things labeled as be open source, they may assume that it is acceptable.

If you happen to know someone behind the project, you might consider contacting them directly to start a dialog about what it means for something to be “open source.”  Or, you could (hint hint hint) send them a link to this article, letting them know that you found it interesting!

But, what if you don’t have any personal connections to the people involved? It’s certainly not as easy. Sometimes you can initiate a dialog with a company, perhaps by asking about their design files or licenses. At the other end of the spectrum, people sometimes bring up options like public shaming. In our view, shaming is harmful to the open source community, and should be considered a last resort akin to violence. Rather, we as a community need to work towards positive ways to nudge people toward doing the right thing.

Please let us know what you think: what should you do when you come across a project mislabeled as open source hardware?

3D LED POV Mirror

“We Are with You, Mirror” is a piece by Brady Marks from VIVO Media Arts Centre that was shown at the Vancouver Mini Maker Faire. It is a 3D persistence of vision volumetric display that acts as a mirror, using four spinning Peggy 2 boards to reflect visitors movements in low resolution 3D LED glory.

Thank you to Brady for sending in the video!

Visited by Toymakers TV

Addie and Whisker of @tymkrs just posted video from their recent epic road trip including a visit to our shop. The video starts off in Colorado and wends through Arizona before getting to the bay area. After stops including the Internet Archive, the Electronics Flea Market and HSC, they arrive to tour our shop (starting at 11:53) before wrapping up at Tindie. We had a great time talking about the Eggbot, WaterColorBot, Digi-Comp II and miscellaneous vintage mechanical and electronic contraptions.

BAMF 2014: Racing Snail video from Hackaday

Part of our continuing coverage of highlights from the 2014 Bay Area Maker Faire.

Mike from hackaday caught up with me at Maker Faire and got a bit of video of my racing snail, which I was showing as an example of soft circuitry alongside various projects of our friend Meredith, including her awesome StarBoard flexible circuit LEDs. Mike’s writeup points to the history and variety of Bristlebot projects. The racing snail is a personal favorite, with the nap of the fabric foot providing the direction to the bot’s motion.

A velvet bristlebot racing snail

EE Times Interview on Open Source Hardware

Windell and Lenore and Three Fives kits

Photo by Rick Merrit, EE Times

EE Times came by and interviewed Windell in advance of his upcoming Maker Faire talk about best practices for Open Source Hardware.

…Big semiconductor companies are jumping on the bandwagon of open source reference boards. But their chips’ intellectual property remains carefully guarded corporate crown jewels. …