Controversy erupted over the past few weeks where someone was providing an assembled electronics kit for RepRap based on the MakerBot electronics board. The controversy stemmed from the maker’s (kymberlyaandrus) alleged lack of posting the required files with the electronics kit.
The way it’s supposed to work, according to basic open source concepts, is that when you create a derivative work, you must post all the files and documentation to permit yet another modifier to create a subsequent improved version. This cascading of intellectual property permits each maker to stand on each other’s shoulders and drive towards the best possible solution. It breaks when someone takes the sequence proprietary and others are locked out.
This is how certain open source licenses work in the software world, and it should work similarly in the hardware world, too. Of course, if you have other intentions for your intellectual property, there are alternative licenses with other terms and conditions.
In this case it seems to be that the maker wasn’t fully aware of the requirements and didn’t post the required files until notified after the fact. It appears that things are now mostly rectified to everyone’s satisfaction, and you can read the discussions below for all the details.
But what does all this mean? We think it demonstrates the infancy of open hardware, where licenses are not fully understood, facilities and protocols for complying with licenses are not easily found or understood, where hardware makers first encounter the bizarre world of licenses and intellectual property. To them, the license stipulations may seem strange and unnecessary, as they simply want to build stuff. But the truth is that these same license concepts were the driving force behind the staggering amount of free software we enjoy today.
Let’s do the same for hardware.