The ‘Source’ in Open Source

Unless you are a lawyer, licensing your creative work might not be the first thing you think about while working on a project.  If you are a lawyer, licensing your lawyer work , well, seems like a Groundhog Day situation where you get only one second in each day you repeat…i.e. a recursive never ending loop…

One pervasive pattern I have noticed since the discussion of ‘open source’ really came to the forefront of the maker revolution is the misuse of the term ‘open source.’  For software and hardware, the term ‘open source’ might be clear.  In the case of software, open source refers to the fact that the source code which went in to creating the software is available through some form of license. For open source hardware, things begin to get tricky as the source not only describes the code which is used to operate the hardware, but the design files which go into producing the hardware.  From the definition:

Hardware is different from software in that physical resources must always be committed for the creation of physical goods.

Where I see the misuse usually occurs when the actual ‘source’ is not considered.  In order to be open source, there must be a source.  Documenting a process to create something is not open source.  While this might be clear to some, there is a lot of evidence that is it not clear to a large population of the internet.

Perhaps the open source licenses are not adequate for describing the licensing of goods since they were developed for software.  Creative Commons is an attempt to broaden the range of potential ‘works’ which can have a license applied to it.  But is is adequate for say, licensing an architectural design?  To what resolution must the physical good be described in order to be considered ‘open.’



Leave a Reply