From RepRapWiki
Jump to: navigation, search



It is recommended for any published work to indicate a license. In RepRap world, this is supposed to be Open Source licenses.

Licensing is a delicate problem because there is no common regulation nor practice around the world.

We shall distinguish three areas where different licensing scheme apply:

  • Software
  • Documentation
  • Hardware

By default Copyright automatically apply to Software and Documentation in most countries. So, an automatic legal protection apply and is widely recognised without registration.

However, for hardware, there is no such thing as an automatic protection nor unified regulation.

Hardware design may be protected if:

  • Part of the hardware work may be considered as an artistic work, by example the shape or aesthetic.
  • The design incorporate a patented device

Formal registration of shape or aesthetic exists in some countries in the form of a 'deposited model', which may help to enforce it. These registration doesn't involving any control by the administration are generally relatively low cost. This is notably used for logos.

Authors rights

While a work is already published under a license, this is definitive and it is no longer possible to cancel the license or remove work from public space. However, the author still retains his/her right on an original work and can later license the work under other licenses, so a multiple scheme licensing is possible. Also, an author can always grant specific rights not allowed by licenses to any person/entity, for example to get fees.

However, this is not possible if the work is a derivative without agreement of all former authors, as you shall comply with the original license. Also, if there are multiple authors, all authors shall agree to any license extension or right grant.

Software licenses

Software open source licenses exist from mid 1980s and they have been legally enforced in some countries. This is a known area where choice and requirement is clear. Most used open source software licence are :

It shall be noted that some licenses oblige any derivative work to be licensed under the same license, without the possibility to add restrictions. They are called 'viral' licences. GPL is one these licenses. To be able to use open source library in a non open source software, it exists specific licenses for libraries, which only impose same license for the library components. Most frequently used is LGPL.

Most countries did not accept software patents, with the notable exception of the USA.

Documentation license

This cover text, images, photographies, schematics and 3d models. This is different than software, which can generally be described in pure text form. It is recommended to use a specific license for any documentation (except 'in program' documentation) Most used open source documentation licence:

  • GFDL Used by RepRap wiki, tend to be abandoned, was abandoned by Wikipedia in 2009
  • Commons license (CC0, CC BY, CC BY-SA, CC BY-NC-SA)

The Commons license

This is a set of licenses with different purposes

  • CC0 is the most open possible license. It is only way for someone to diffuse a work as 'public domain' as most countries protect work with Copyright and heirs may want to impose rights against the initial will of the work author.
  • CC BY impose only users or creator of derivative work to cite the original author
  • CC BY-SA impose to cite the author and add a clause obliging all derivative work to use the same license. The 'SA' (Share Alike) is the 'Viral' clause. This is the license used by Wikipedia
  • CC BY-NC-SA forbid any commercial use. An author always retain his/her rights and can grant commercial use by contract. It is quite restrictive and some publisher add non-profit clause (allowing commercial use for non-profit entities)


These two licenses are not interchangeable.

CC BY-SA is widely used while GFDL remains confidential.

The RepRap wiki use the GFDL 1.2, implying that work from Wikipedia or other open source cannot be merged in existing pages. However, it is possible for newly created pages to use a double licensing scheme, which is recommended. The template {{dl}} was created to be able to export the RepRap wiki pages so labelled to other web sites using CC BY-SA. Incorporating work licensed only in CC BY-SA need the removal of the GFDL license, which is not yet possible on this wiki.

Hardware license


Hardware is specific because it is not protected by Copyright, except for some parts as pattern of a printed circuit or decorative shapes.

Design documents are copyrighted, but not the design itself.

So, licenses for hardware were created and it may be recommended to use them instead of software license. Hardware specific licenses

The Open Source Hardware Association maintain a FAQ and is working on a certification process.

The Choice of license is discussed in the OSHWA FAQ

A logo was developed for Open source hardware, but its use is uncontrolled.

See page Open source hardware

Enforcement of license

see : open source hardware and law

As there is no implicit protection of hardware without patent, enforceability of the open hardware licenses will be problematic till this is taken into account by the legal systems. Yet the main tool is the reputation of the company/person using open source hardware without complying with the license.

It shall be noted that patents are only valid in a country if they are validly recorded in that country, so very few patent have worldwide extent due to the high cost involved. Patent may also expires for many reasons, notably if the holder don't pay the fees. Also, there are a lot of abuse of patent.

There are specific local regulations and notably in the USA, prior art is only recognised is it was published in paper writing, meaning that someone can get a patent for something already published on Internet. Also, any prior publication may invalidate a patent in some countries, while in the USA, a published work can be patented within one year.


A lot of companies or individuals pretend to have published their hardware in open source, while they only published elements allowing to manufacture parts. The term 'source' imply the files which were used to create the part, not only the file which were used to manufacture them.

The philosophy of open hardware is that the work could be reused in another equipment or that derivative work could be done. This imply that the files used to design the equipment shall be published.

A few examples:

  • An stl file may allow to print a part, but without the CAD file, it is difficult to modify this part to improve it
  • A pdf of a printed circuit allow copying of the circuit, but without the schematic and CAD board file, you cannot modify it without significant reverse engineering.
  • A pdf of a printed circuit without the details component bill of material is of no use
  • An electrical schematic of a board needs a lot of added work to elaborate a new board (in fact, the schematic is the easiest part).
  • The complete documentation of a board having a CPU without the software source is often unusable?

Fundamentally, if the published documents does not allow easy derivative work, this is NOT open SOURCE.

Commercial restrictions

Some are publishing documents about hardware with a non-commercial clause (generally CC BY-NC-SA).

One of the aim of open source hardware is to allow derivative work and equipment improvement. This often is mostly possible through company work more than independent amateur work.

The publication with 'non commercial' clause of documents for equipment which can only be manufactured through serial industrial process (by example cut and folded sheet metal part) is especially ridiculous and show bad faith.

Such non-commercial clause prevent the grow of an 'ecosystem' around a technology.

The presence of a non commercial clause is against open Source hardware philosophy and one cannot claim to be open source with such clause.

See this post

This is one of the reasons the OSHWA is developing a certification process for open hardware.

Licensing scheme

While publishing the data for an hardware ensemble (as a printer) there shall be a set of licenses :

  • For the hardware
  • For the software/firmware
  • For the documentation (which may also have multiple licenses to help information spreading)

Where source files shall be saved ?

Licenses don't impose any location for source file. Most open source licenses only require easy access to the source. In addition, if global repository exists for software, there is nothing equivalent for hardware.

While it is valid according licenses to store the sources on designer/manufacturer web site, there is a lot of interest to propose these sources on global repositories like GitHub or this own site (

One of the purpose of open source is that the work done remain available for all whatever occur to original author, for general advancement of technology. Companies disappear and individual lost interest with time or simply die. Storing in repositories which allow easy copy or retain history guaranty the long term availability of the work. In addition a site like GitHub is designed to ease derivative work and provide tools helping version comparison. GitHub is designed for software, but it can be used to store hardware files, being it a printer, an electronic board or any other hardware. However, for people which are not computer programmers, GitHub may be a bit difficult to handle.

A lot of people are using Thingiverse (owned by MakerBot) for hardware as it proposes a nice user interface, but doing so they give the rights on their work to MakerBot, which is free to use the material without complying with the license defined by the author. This is a risk some may not want to take. Other printer manufacturer repositories as Youmagine don't oblige users to hand their rights to the manufacturer, but they have less visibility.

Till the rise of a global independent hardware repository, GitHub or sites are probably the best option to store hardware source files. It is important to note that GitHub is a private company, which may one day disappear or be bought by another company with different policy. is a non-profit foundation which get some revenues from publicity which can maintain it alive.

In addition to site licence GFDL1.2, this page is also released under license CC BY-SA 4.0