Posted by: commonsresource | April 14, 2010

Dead End Derivatives & Ethical U-Turns

When I came across the MakerBot Industries blog post entitled Open Source Ethics and Dead End Derivatives last moth, I thought, at the time, that it would be an interesting topic to write about.  The “Update” note that I saw when I re-visited the site earlier today makes the story even more compelling.

While the original post says it best, the basic story is that a third party company seems to have taken an open source hardware (“OSH”) design and released a product with a new and improved design without providing the “source files” of that design back to the OSH community.  In addition to providing a very clear outline of the rationale and value of OSH, the post issued a “call to action” to the third party company.

As the “Update” note sets out

“The source files have been documented and that documentation can be found here. They are PDFs for now, which is a first step towards publishing the source files. Sebastien Bailard is the hero here and worked with the creators of the derivative boards to document and get the publishing process into high gear.”

As the original post wisely notes, “Open source hardware relies on ethics to work.” Since this is also true for open source software and most if not all other forms of commons sourcing, it is great to see that the Dead End morphed into an ethical (or at least compliance) u-turn! I like stories with a happy ending.


  1. The situation is much more complicated than that, I’m afraid. Open hardware can be a significantly more cutthroat game than open software, because shipping atoms takes (and makes) money, unlike bits. Even at the smallest scale.

    It can be useful to spend some time unpicking the history, politics, and motivations of the parties involved, rather than accepting how one party positions itself without question.

    From my perspective there are remarkably deep dividing lines and conflicts of interest going on here.

    We’re used to plucky coders publicly declaring a GPL-violation on large faceless corporations once most other options are exhausted. But this is one kit-builder going after another kit-builder, so it is rather a different game.

    (I have a very large ax to grind here.)

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