WIRED Magazine just published a fascinating article by Clive Thompson on Arduino, a company that manufactures an open source computing platform of the same name.
Schematics for the Arduino chip are released under a CC BY-SA license, meaning that home-brewed Arduino chips have popped up in “open source synthesizers, MP3 players, guitar amplifiers, and even high-end voice-over-IP phone routers”. The article is brimming with anecdotes and examples on how giving away these schematics ahs been a huge help to Arduino economically, ethically, and creatively. In regards to their initial motivations, Thompson writes:
[T]he Arduino inventors decided to start a business, but with a twist: The designs would stay open source. Because copyright law—which governs open source software—doesn’t apply to hardware, they decided to use a Creative Commons license called Attribution-Share Alike. It governs the “reference designs” for the Arduino board, the files you’d send to a fabrication plant to have the boards made.
Under the Creative Commons license, anyone is allowed to produce copies of the board, to redesign it, or even to sell boards that copy the design. You don’t need to pay a license fee to the Arduino team or even ask permission. However, if you republish the reference design, you have to credit the original Arduino group. And if you tweak or change the board, your new design must use the same or a similar Creative Commons license to ensure that new versions of the Arduino board will be equally free and open.
On the topic of open-source economics, the Arduino team has some phenomenal insight on lessons they have learned:
[Arduino] makes little off the sale of each board—only a few dollars of the $35 price, which gets rolled into the next production cycle. But the serious income comes from clients who want to build devices based on the board and who hire the founders as consultants.
“Basically, what we have is the brand,” says Tom Igoe, an associate professor at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University, who joined Arduino in 2005. “And brand matters.”
What’s more, the growing Arduino community performs free labor for the consultants. Clients of Banzi’s design firm often want him to create Arduino-powered products. For example, one client wanted to control LED arrays. Poking around online, Banzi found that someone in France had already published Arduino code that did the job. Banzi took the code and was done.
The whole article is absolutely fascinating and worth a read for anyone in the CC community – interested in computer hardware or not. You can learn more about Arduino at their website.
One thought on “WIRED on Arduino and Open Source Computing”
There’s an interesting thing happening right now, … the concept of open source hardware is getting somewhat blended. It seems appropriate to call the software running on the device “open source” and released by the GPL license or a derivative, for instance, while the hardware layout and descriptor files (which aren’t really code per se) make more sense covered under something like the Creative Commons licenses above. It’s interesting because not everyone would call pure CC-related licensing “open source”. I think we may be seeing a trend towards physical devices that ship with multiple licenses.
Here are two presentations I wrote on the relationship between “open source,” “GPL”, and the Creative Commons – perhaps some food for thought:
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