Tag Archives: Annoucements

New CERN Open Source Hardware Licenses Mark A Major Step Forward

via Open Source Hardware Association

Earlier this month CERN (yes, that CERN) announced version 2.0 of their open hardware licenses (announcement and additional context from them). Version 2.0 of the license comes in three flavors of permissiveness and marks a major step forward in open source hardware (OSHW) licensing. It is the result of seven (!) years of work by a team lead by Myriam Ayass, Andrew Katz, and Javier Serrano. Before getting to what these licenses are doing, this post will provide some background on why open source hardware licensing is so complicated in the first place.

While the world of open source software licensing is full of passionate disputes, everyone more or less agrees on one basic point: software is fully protected by copyright. Software is ‘born closed’ because the moment it is written it is automatically protected by copyright. If the creator of that software wants to share it with others, she needs to affirmatively give others permission to build on it. In doing so she can be confident that her license covers 100% of the software.

At least at an abstract level, that makes open source software licenses fairly binary: either there is no license or there is a license that covers everything.

Things are not as clean in open source hardware. Hardware includes software (sometimes). It also includes actual hardware, along with documentation that is distinct from both. Hardware’s software is protected by copyright. The hardware itself could be protected by an idiosyncratic mix of rights (more on that in a second) that include copyright, patent, and even trademark. The result of this is, at a minimum, an OSHW license needs to be aware of the fact that there may be many moving intellectual property pieces connected to a single piece of hardware – a fairly stark contrast to open source software’s ‘everything covered by copyright’ situation.

OSHW Licenses are Hard 2: Coverage is Hard to Generalize

The (at least superficially) straightforward relationship between software and copyright makes it easy to give generalized advice about licensing and to develop licenses that are useful in a broad range of situations. A lawyer can be fairly confident that the advice “you need a copyright license” is correct for any software package even without having to look at the software itself. That, in turn, means it is safe for non-lawyers to adopt “I need a copyright license for my software” as a rule of thumb, confident that it will be correct in the vast majority of cases. It also means that software developers can be confident that the obligations they impose on downstream users – like an obligation to share any contributions to the software – are legally enforceable.

As suggested above, hardware can be much more idiosyncratic. The physical elements of hardware might be protected by copyright – in whole or in part – or they might not. That means that the hardware might be born closed like software, or it might be born open, free of automatic copyright protection, and available for sharing without the need for a license. The flip side of this ambiguity is that a creator may be able to enforce obligations on future users (such as the classic copyleft sharing obligations) for some hardware, but not for other hardware. Expectations misalignment with regards to these kinds of obligations can create problems for creators and users alike.

All of this means that it can be hard to create a reliable software-style licensing rule of thumb for OSHW creators. Many OSHW creators end up following the practices of projects that went before them and hoping for the best. In fact, this ‘follow others’ model is the premise for the educational guidance that the OSHWA makes available.

OSHWA’s Approach

One of the many questions all of this sets up is a bundling vs breakout approach to licensing. Is it better to try and create an omni-license that covers the IP related to software, hardware, and documentation for OSHW, or to suggest users pick three licenses – one for software, one for hardware, and one for documentation? A creator could make very different choices about sharing the three elements, so the omni approach could get complicated fast. At the same time, having three distinct licenses is a lot more complicated than just having one.

OSHWA ultimately decided to go with the three license approach in our certification program. This was driven in part by the realization that there were already mature licenses for software (OSI-approved open source software licenses) and documentation (Creative Commons licenses). That allowed OSHWA to take a “don’t do anything new if you can avoid it” approach to licensing education. It also required us to recommend licenses for hardware.

Existing OSHW Licenses

While many open source hardware creators use software (such as the GPL) or documentation (Creative Commons) licenses for hardware, neither of those licenses were really written with hardware in mind. Fortunately, there were three existing hardware licenses. OSHWA provided a quick comparison between the three licenses: CERN 1.2, Solderpad, and TAPR. Although all of these licenses were good first steps, they were all developed fairly early in the history of open source hardware. Solderpad and TAPR in particular were essentially designed to add hardware wrappers to existing open source software licenses.

CERN 2.0

CERN’s 2.0 licenses have been informed by all of the developments and thinking around open source hardware and licensing in the seven years between the release of 1.2 and today. In recognition that creators may be interested in multiple types of openness and obligations on downstream users, they come in the flavors: the strongly reciprocal S variant, the weakly reciprocal W variant, and the permissive P variant. While this structure makes it hard to mix reciprocities (by, for example, requiring strong reciprocity on documentation and weak reciprocity on the hardware itself), they provide a clear way for hardware creators to license the hardware portion of their projects. This is a deeply reasonable approach.

CERN’s ‘Available Components’

One evergreen question for open source hardware is ‘open down to what?’ Your design may be open, but does that mean that all of your components have to be open as well? Did you have to use open source software to create the design? Running on an open source operating system? Running on open source silicon?

OSHWA’s certification program addressed this question with the concept of the ‘creator contribution.’ The idea is that the creator must make available and openly license everything within her power to make available and open. Generally those will be her designs, code, and documentation. It is fine to include components sourced from third parties (even non-open components) as long as they are generally available without requiring an NDA to access.

CERN’s ‘available component’ definition achieves much the same goal. As long as a component is generally and readily available, and described with enough information to understand their interfaces, they do not themselves have to be open. Of course, both the contours of the creator contribution and available component may vary from hardware to hardware. Hopefully time and experience will help give us all a better sense of how to draw the lines.

Let’s See How it Goes

This post has mostly focused on the CERN license’s role in helping making ‘born closed’ components more open through licensing. There is a flip side to all of this: what happens when a license is used on a ‘born open’ piece of hardware. That can give both users and creators a distorted sense of their obligations when using a piece of hardware. However, that is probably a problem for public education, not license design.

This is an exciting time for open source hardware. CERN’s new license is a big step forward in licensing. As it is adopted and used we will learn what works, what doesn’t, and what tweaks might be helpful. The best way to do that is to use it yourself and see how it fits.

How We Made the Open Hardware Summit to All Virtual in Less Than a Week

via Open Source Hardware Association

Screenshot from a panel discussion

First, thank you again to everyone – speakers, participants, and sponsors – for a fantastic 10th anniversary Open Hardware Summit.  We knew the 10th anniversary Summit would be one for the ages, although we didn’t quite expect it to be because it became the first virtual Summit. 

Thanks to the timing of the Summit, the 10th anniversary Summit ended up being many people’s first virtual summit of the Covid-19 era (that includes the organizers).  Unfortunately it looks like it is unlikely to be the last. In the hopes of helping event organizers struggling with the same challenges, this blog post outlines the decisions we made and the steps we took to make it happen.

Quick Context

The Open Hardware Summit is an annual gathering of the open source hardware community held by the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA).  This year OSHWA partnered with the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law & Policy at NYU Law to host the event in New York City.  The event usually brings together hundreds of community members and speakers from around the world.  It was scheduled for March 13, 2020.

While the situation has been evolving for some time, as recently as March 5th (8 days before the Summit) we thought that holding a reduced in-person version of the event was the right decision.  By March 8 (5 days before the Summit) that was no longer tenable and we announced that the Summit was going all virtual.  That was the right decision, but what does going all virtual mean?

Priorities

We had two major priorities for the virtual Summit:

  1. Online streaming video of all of the speakers and panels.
  2. A community space for discussions and coming together.

Video

The live stream of the Summit had to be both accessible to our viewers and easy to join for our speakers and panelists.  After considering some options and consulting with experts in our community (huge thank you to Phil Torrone at Adafruit for the guidance), we concluded that a combination of YouTube and StreamYard would be the best option.

YouTube worked for our community because it is easily accessible on a wide range of platforms in most of the world.  That meant that just about everyone would be able to see the Summit from wherever they were.

StreamYard made it easy to manage the backend.  Speakers could join a virtual green room before their talk and our technical testing the day before the Summit made it clear that it was easy for them to share their slide presentations as well.  One of the members of the Summit team was able to easily add and remove people (and their screens) to the live feed, along with stills and slides for introductions, sponsors, and everything else.

Community Space

We also looked at a number of options for online discussions.  We decided that a discord server would be the best option for the open source hardware community. Discord allowed us to open the space to anyone who wanted to join, while at the same time giving us moderation control over the discussion.  Many community members were already comfortable with discord, which was also a bonus.

We also decided to use discord for a version of Q&A for the speakers.  One option would have been to try and integrate video questions from the audience into the live stream. That would have been technically possible with StreamYard (probably…), but it seemed like an unnecessary logistical complication for the organizers.  As an alternative we decided to set up separate discord channels for each of the speakers. That allowed the speakers to end their talk and move to their discord channel for further discussions.

One unexpected and welcome development was that the discord server grew into a larger community hub, with channels devoted to solutions to Covid-19, community announcements, and even hacking the conference badge.  We may decide to maintain the server well beyond the Summit as a community space.

It Mostly Worked

We scheduled brief runthroughs with all of the speakers the day before the Summit. Everyone had a chance to get comfortable with the process and work out any last minute problems.  On the day of the Summit we embedded the livestream in the Summit site, along with a link to the discord server for discussion. There were a few audio glitches where speakers had to briefly drop out, but all things considered it went pretty smoothly.

Once the Summit was over the entire livestream of the Summit was posted automatically to OSHWA’s YouTube channel.  Within a day or two we had broken out all of the individual talks into a video playlist and pulled the audio from our panel discussion into a stand alone podcast episode.

To the extent that things worked, one of the big reasons was the nature of the OSHWA community.  Besides being generally great and supportive (no small thing), the open source hardware community already sees itself as a community and is already comfortable with connecting via online tools.  That made it easy for them to enthusiastically watch the live stream and jump into the online discussion. Not all types of events have this starting point, which may suggest that they are not great candidates for this type of virtual structure.

If you are reading this because you are working on your own virtual event, good luck!  We are happy to answer questions if you have them. Email us at info@oshwa.org. StreamYard also has a referral program, so if you drop us a line at info@oshwa.org we can give you a $10 credit if you want it.

The 2020 Open Hardware Summit is Going Virtual

via Open Source Hardware Association

In our last update we promised to continue to monitor the coronavirus situation and to update the community as things evolved. Today we are announcing that things have evolved, and explaining what that means for the community and the Summit.

  1. We are switching to an all-virtual summit for 2020.  We are coordinating with speakers to move all presentations to streaming online video.  You can expect a schedule similar to the one we have already announced, as well as a robust set of online chat options for the community to discuss the day’s events.
  2. We also still plan on holding the pre-party happy hour the evening of March 12 for community members who are in NYC.  The happy hour is free to anyone who is able to attend. If you are in the area we look forward to seeing you there.  However, we do not recommend traveling to NYC just for the happy hour.  
  3. We continue to offer full refunds on tickets to anyone who has purchased tickets to the Summit.  Contact info@oshwa.org for more details.
  4. We will be sending full swag bags to all ticket holders (including badges).
  5. Next year’s summit will be in NYC again on April 9, 2021. Mark your calendars!

While we are sorry to have to make this change, we are still excited about this year’s Summit.   We have a fantastic lineup of speakers and even more OSHWA announcements planned. While we know that many members of our community will be disappointed not to be able to see each other in person this year, we look forward to seeing all of you virtually on Friday and in person in 2021.

Thank you all again for being part of the open source hardware community! 

The Open Hardware Summit Is Still On

via Open Source Hardware Association

In light of ongoing news related to the coronavirus we want to provide the community with an update about the Summit scheduled for March 13 in NYC.  The most important update is that the Summit is on and we intend to hold it as planned.  The second most important update is that OSHWA is monitoring the situation.

The Summit is always an important event to open source hardware community. This year’s Summit is doubly special because it is the 10th anniversary of the Summit and we were forced to skip the Summit last year.  In light of those factors OSHWA is committed to holding the Summit next week as long as it is viable to do so. Even a somewhat smaller Summit is an opportunity for the community to come together, discuss open source hardware, and connect in person.

We are aware of concerns related to the coronavirus and do not take them lightly.  We also recognize that this is an evolving situation. We will continue to monitor the situation, as well as guidance provided by authorities,  and may revisit our decision if it is warranted. That will be especially true if our host venue of NYU Law decides to suspend events – a decision they have given us no indication of making as of now.  However, at this point we do not believe that the situation warrants the cancelation of the event. 

We do recognize that many members of our community have purchased tickets to the Summit and now find themselves unable or unwilling to attend.  We ask that you notify us if this is the case so we can accommodate and adjust accordingly. As always, we will stream the Summit live and invite all members of the community who are unable to attend for any reason to join us virtually the day of the Summit.  We are also happy to provide refunds to those ticket holders who now feel unable to attend. If you would like a refund for your ticket, or have other questions about the Summit, please contact us at summit@oshwa.org.

Finally, we look forward to seeing many of you next week.  If you have been considering coming but haven’t purchased your ticket yet, now would be a great time to decide to join us!

First Round of Speakers for 2020 Summit Announced

via Open Source Hardware Association

Hello Open Hardware Community,

Thank you for the overwhelming response with your submissions again this year.

We have announced the first round of confirmed speakers for Open Hardware Summit 2020. We are excited to have them speak on various topics from 3d printing to space, chip-level design, and robots.

This being the 10th annual summit, the speakers will also cover learnings from the past decade and what to expect in the next decade of the open hardware revolution. Check out the list here- https://2020.oshwa.org/speakers/

We will announce the next set of speakers and schedule soon.

Looking forward to seeing you at the Summit on the 13th of March 2020.