Home > 3D Printing, Politics > Is RepRap Open Source Hardware?

Is RepRap Open Source Hardware?

September 25, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

So, last week there was a big hubub when @Josefprusa tweeted:

So I called @makerbot support and asked. Replicator 2 is NOT Open Source! #FAIL #reprap 😦 I’m sad! /cc @bjepson @adafruit @make @hackaday.

Then a few days later, by happenstance, I was browsing SparkFun, and noticed they had a link to the Open Source hardware Definition (it sounds awesome by the way). However, as I was reading it, one thing stood out to me like a sore thumb:

8. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor
The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the work (including manufactured hardware) in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it must not restrict the hardware from being used in a business, or from being used in nuclear research.

Now, I know it’s not in the RepRap license, but it is a statement made on BEHALF OF the RepRap core development team (on a sub-domain of the official RepRap website, no less):

… the RepRap researchers will work actively to inhibit and to subvert the use of RepRap for weapons production, whether by individuals, companies, or governments. And we will remove any such designs from this site. At least RepRap is not very suited to weapons manufacture – it tends to work with more subtle and delicate materials. Give people an internal combustion engine and a few will make tanks; but many more will make ambulances.

Whether you personally support* weapons or not is of no value to this discussion; the topic here is that while the RepRap license may not explicitly state you can’t make them, the core RepRap research team has committed themselves to behaving in a way that is completely contrary to the spirit of the open hardware movement.

While I do not classify them as the same level of evil as I do MakerBot Industries at the moment, I still do not hold the RepRap research team guiltless for their hypocritical and unacceptable behavior.

(*: for the curious, I do support gun ownership, after all: “if you criminalize guns, only the criminals will have them”. — not to mention, as for the Tanks and Ambulances statement, if we’d sent ambulances to Europe instead of tanks, I’m sure World War II would have gone much differently… Just sayin’.

And fuck, guys, think about the children — yes I’m being serious — if you give the community the opportunity to build a safer gun, it may save lives.)

  • Update (Sept. 27, 2012):

@Josefprusa sent me a response to this blog article via twitter:

@FOSSwiki @BrainSlugs83 we haven’t discussed that in core dev, its not official statement. Sebastien put it in there. We will look at it THX

It may not be an official statement, and I as I said before, even if it is, it technically doesn’t violate the Open Source Hardware rules (as their RepRap license does not prevent you from making weapons), but it is still a display of anti-open-source-hardware behavior, supposedly on behalf of the RapRap development team, and is certainly contrary to the spirit of the open source hardware movement, in general.

In the end, everybody makes mistakes, the real measure here will be to see how quickly (or even if) this mistake is remedied. I will definitely be waiting to see what the result of this discussion is.

Hopefully, they’ll have a discussion, come to an agreement, and take the statement down as an “official” action (as opposed to, by some vandal editing their wiki). That kind of remedy would definitely be acceptable, not to mention a testament to the coolness of the RepRap guys. Let’s see what happens. I’ll keep you guys posted.

Categories: 3D Printing, Politics
  1. justblairthompson
    October 3, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Sorry but this is a non argument. If those who give their time and expertise to the community wish to express a wish on how their endeavour is used, how does that violate the spirit of open source?

    People who then disrespect those wishes take the pleasure of giving away from the community and risk forcing the designers into closed source development. All because they have a political agenda.

    Describing something as open sourced has a specific legal meaning which is not in this case being breached.

    For the record I come from a country with tight gun control and a lower murder rate, lower crime rate than yours. Your argument that prolific gun ownership reduces crime has no statistical evidence. In fact the evidence is to the contrary.

  2. October 3, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Hi Blair!

    I would like to clarify that I was not attempting to make an argument that higher or lower gun ownership had any implication on crime rate (whether violent or otherwise). I simply stated a truth, that “where X is outlawed, only the outlaws will have X”. In the case of outlawing gun ownership, this implies that that people do not have the freedom to defend themselves in the same way that they may be attacked. — Crime finds a way. — It is certainly a double edged sword in that when something is not outlawed, the criminals will also have more access to that resource as well.

    As for the “those who give their time and expertise to the community” — the argument here is that they have not given their time an expertise to the whole community, they have discriminated against a certain group, have excluded them, and have said that they are actively committed to working against that group.

    It’s not just “We don’t like you making X” it’s “we will attempt to STOP you from making X”. This is completely contrary to the spirit of open source.

    They have claimed the RepRap is released under the GNU-GPL, and yet make these kinds of statements. It’s my understanding that the GNU-GPL does not allow for an author to discriminate against who uses the soft/hard-ware or how it is used. It may say “This soft/hard-ware might not be good at what you’re doing with it, but you can go ahead and try — just don’t attempt to place blame on us when it opens up a black hole and swallows your house up!” (paraphrased).

    That would be perfectly acceptable — since it’s GNU-GPL it’s already explicitly stated that it might not be useful for any particular purpose, and that they take no responsibility. But it does not say that “you can only use this if we like what you’re making”.


    According to the “Quick Guide to (GNU) GPLv3″* (the GNU-GPLv3 is an available license for the RepRap, as they have stated GNU-GPLv2 or newer) the users have:

    • the freedom to use the software for any purpose,
    • the freedom to change the software to suit your needs,
    • the freedom to share the software with your friends and neighbors, and
    • the freedom to share the changes you make.

    This means that if the RepRap team actively seeks to prevent users from making guns with RepRaps, then they are NOT behaving in a way that is compliant with their claimed Open Source license.

    *: I was unable to find a guide for the GPLv2 quickly, but I’d be surprised if this changed drastically between the two versions.

    • justblairthompson
      October 3, 2012 at 1:53 pm

      Your quote though from the team suggests the course of action the team may take, ie. Removal of materials from the sites. The sites is not open sourced and therefore the team is entitled to remove anything they don’t like. This has nothing to do with the licence of designs.

      And saying that having a community gun design may save lives does imply reduced death rates, something that can be easily tested by comparing crime figures between countries with low gun ownership vs countries with high ownership. Verdict… Gun ownership = higher death rates. Guns do not save lives.

      • October 3, 2012 at 2:14 pm

        Ahh, so that’s where our miscommunications lie!

        Please take a moment to re-review the quote in question — while I did provide it verbatim (for reasons of context) I did ALSO add bolded emphasis on the part that I call in to question.

        Certainly, I agree that they have the right to censor their own website. While I may have a moral and political disagreement with censorship, it is their website, and I do not seek to deprive them of this right.

        The problem here is that they “will work actively to inhibit and to subvert the use of RepRap for weapons production, whether by individuals, companies, or governments.” This means, that if I want to make my own separate “RepRap Weapons Builders Community” website or even maintain personal blog entries on the subject, that I have been warned that they will try to prevent me from doing this. Hence, they would be denying me a freedom that the license they claim to adhere to had previously granted me: “The freedom to use the soft[or hard-]ware for any purpose.”

        Even if I make no website, they have made an out-of-band statement that they may attempt to interfere with me for merely using their hardware for this purpose.

        Consider, also, that I am also granted the freedom to use their soft/hard-ware for nefarious purposes; therefore again, even if we have a difference of opinion on whether what I am attempting is good or bad, they are still over stepping their bounds by telling me “No”. If they wish to say “This may not be used for X” then the RepRap is not Open Source (at least according to the GNU-GPLv3, and the Open Source Hardware definition linked above — also in general it goes against the spirit of the open source movement).

        As for my opinion on open source gun development — Again, it might save lives. For example: a better, more child proof safety device than what is currently commercially available could prevent accidental child deaths that sometimes occur when an unsupervised child goes exploring and finds daddy’s gun while he’s at work. [Edit: I’d like to own a gun that I could remotely disable, so as to minimize the chances of it being used in a way that I did not consent to.]

        However, saved lives, even if they were quantified, would still have ZERO implications on crime rate (violent or otherwise); You might be able to draw a correlation between the two, but even then I’d be very skeptical of the numbers!

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