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Topic: Arduino documentation licensing (Read 2836 times) previous topic - next topic



I work in Belgium, in an Art school where I teach computer programming and embedded systems with Arduino. Because most of my students have difficulties in English (yes, it's a pity, thanks to poor secondary education in Belgium), I'm currently translating in French the Arduino language reference from the website. It's a LaTex document intended to be used in a teaching environment and I'm adding chapters about C language, AVR libc and tricks learned from my teaching experience of Arduino. The document is intended to be released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

My main concern is about the licensing of the Arduino documentation on the website. Although mine will be released in French, most of the text was translated from the original work. I think it's logical to release my work under the GNU license but I don't want to get anybody (including me) into trouble.

Does anybody have more information about the current Arduino documentation licensing?

Best regards from Belgium.



Hi all,

I guess my previous message was read by the correct person as the language reference on the website now mentions the documentation and code licensing. I suppose the arduino team has its own reasons but I remember that I had found in July a reference to CC BY-NC-SA 2.5 license and now, the NC (Non-Commercial) tag has disappeared. Because of the SA tag, my work should be released under a compatible license but I do want to keep the NC part of the CC license. As it is intended to develop Arduino diffusion in teaching environment, I cannot accept someone else making money with it.

What do you think? Please leave comments about this.




Most prominent people and projects in the open-source world don't approve of non-commercial clauses in their licenses.  This is for a few reasons.  One, they don't want to discriminate against someone's field of endeavor (i.e. commerce instead of teaching).  Second, there primary concern is that derivatives are freely useable by others, not that no one makes money from them.  In fact, allowing commercial activity around open-source projects is one key element in sustaining them (e.g. in the way that IBM or Novell can employ people to work on open-source projects because they are able to make money from them).  See, for example, "Selling Free Software" from the FSF: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/selling.html.  Don't think of it as someone making money of your work, but as someone providing a value to the community without depriving that community of their rights to use you work (and theirs) in other ways.  

A factor unique to open-hardware involves the commercial transactions that accompany the distribution of physical products.  A non-commercial license on documentation would prevent it from being distributed with an Arduino board, for example, or posted on a website that sells Arduino boards.  This is contrary to our belief that those who manufacture and sell open-hardware products provide a key value to the community by making this hardware available to people who might not otherwise have access to it.  

Finally, the GFDL allows commercial usage just as the CC BY-SA licenses do.  In fact, they are very close in spirit with only a few differences in the details (i.e. the GFDL requires you to include the full text of the license in any derivative work whereas the CC licenses only require that you link to the license).  One of the ways in which both of these licenses ensure the freedom of the uses of works licensed under them is by requiring you to distribute licensed content under the same license, meaning that you are not allowed to add a non-commercial clause to them without permission.  If you really cannot stomach the thought of your work being used commercially, you have a couple of choices.  One is to create it from scratch, without the use of material licensed under a CC BY-SA license.  Another is to give us more details about what you plan to do, how you would like to see it used, and why you disapprove of a non-commercial license.  Then we may agree to license the material to you under a different license.


Thanks David for your answer,

Sure I haven't considered that point of you about the "commercial" clause and it makes sense. To me, "commercial" only meant that the work could be sold without the author's consent, I didn't realized that it could interfere with a company selling Arduino boards while offering a printed manual as a plus to the product.

As you know, the text I'm working on was supposed to be a French textbook to help my students to migrate more easily to embedded computer programming and programming in general. The school I teach in has a very short history in Digital Arts and it is usually considered that electronics, interaction and, of course, programming have nothing to do there. In Belgium, Art schools were, historically speaking, places where only Fine Arts could have a place. In 2001, a official government text defined the "Art schools : next generation", approaching universities like in many other countries while introducing sciences and techniques in their cursus.

While translating the Arduino reference, I began to add concepts and pieces of information that were missing (to me) in order to have the textbook more coherent and at that moment, I realized that it would be an aid for other French speaking teachers, that's why I contacted you by email at the end of July and began to post on the forum about it.

About the licensing, at first I thought a GFDL would be fine but then I saw the CC BY-NC-SA 2.5 licensing and I switch to the same license in version 3.0. I wrote about keeping the NC clause because my main concern is that my work may be used to "recruit" people for different activities, organized by private associations, even persons. A workshop should not be free of charge of course : my salary comes from the public financing, and those who give the workshop must get a salary as well. But what I afraid of is that copies of my work could be sold at a price higher than the actual production cost, just to artificially increase the price asked.

On the CC website, NC is explained as "The licensor permits others to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work. In return, licensees may not use the work for commercial purposes -- unless they get the licensor's permission". I don't mind if my work is used for a workshop, advertised and freely distributed with Arduino boards or used in other schools around the world, I finally started doing it for these reasons. But I would have liked to be asked before using the work in a commercial environment, know the price asked and eventually waive the restriction.

You know, since my brother and I started teaching, more than 10 years ago (15 for my bro), we have written many textbooks, all were restricted to schools and selected classes but in our little experience, we had a few cases of our work copied and used under another teacher's name. Of course it wasn't about money and the "BY" clause protects against these practices but we really disliked so-called colleagues to have better reports (and then more chances to get a job and consequently a better salary) with our work. Even thought we never refused to help a young colleague to start by giving him or her a copy of our work.

Now, I would understand if you and your team prefer keeping the CC BY-SA license and I won't stop working on my textbook and probably release it under the same license. I do not intend to fork your work or something, you now have the complete explanation why.

Best regards from Belgium and thanks again for the good work you're giving to the community!



Sep 03, 2007, 11:44 pm Last Edit: Sep 03, 2007, 11:46 pm by Daniel Reason: 1
Ladyada has a good blog entry on this....


It would be good to clarify how the Arduino site material can be used, as Brian's Arduino programming reference has a similar CC BY-NC-SA license...

It seems like keeping a copy available for download with a CC BY-SA license would be a good strategy, as who is going to buy a copy when they could download it for free? :)



Thanks Daniel for these precisions. The blog entry you mentionned is very interesting and clarifies quite a lot of misunderstanding. Now, I think my (and other free documentation authors) situation is a bit different, for a few reasons :

- I agree that open hardware shouldn't be tagged as "non-commercial" as it couldn't even be sold (if I got all this right...) and all the arguments developped on ladyada.net are correct. But the textbook I'm writing is not hardware, not even software, it's pure knowledge which, for most of it, was acquiered while I was teaching so I consider I have already been paid for it. It's not like if I had spent all my free time (which I actually did because I wrote the textbook during the summer rest...) on a subject outside my field of work and that I wanted to publish it (while keeping a free downloadable copy) and possibly make money with it. This is the main reason why I would like to keep it "non commercial".

- As I already wrote in a previous post and, like many others, one of my concerns is about someone else selling my work at a price higher that the actual production cost. Your comment is a good answer, for people who are "fluent" in computer science, they know how to search for pieces of information on the net and find it. Arduino is intendent for a more artistic audience, which is why it's so interesting, but I know my students or my colleagues who are accomplished artists : I know they can be fooled by someone who tells them: "this textbook is an integral part of the workshop and it costs $$$ but you won't regret it". I bet that none of them would ever search the net even though it is labelled CC, especially if the sold textbook is claimed to be "a derivative of Stephan's work".

- In July, when I began working on this project, I was mecanically translating the website (and if I remember it right, the contents were licensed under the CC BY-NC-SA 2.5) and yes, it was a pure derivative, a simple translation. Today, more than half of it represents material I have personnaly written, about pointers, structures, complementary explanations about electonics, physics, etc... And again, I would like to keep it academic, educational, in the sense of being a tool to learn.

- Another problem that arose is about the final licensing of my work. I used pieces of information from Wikipedia (GFDL), Arduino source code (GPL 2.0), Wiring documentation (CC NC, see http://www.wiring.org.co/copyright.html ). These licences are all different. Which one do I have to follow?

- And finally, I'm currently helping my school's librarian to migrate from a classic paper file to a digital one, using a free library management software called PMB ( http://www.sigb.net/ ) and although the company,which develops it, is selling books and services, the hmtl version of the documentation is licenced under the CC BY-NC 2.0 (see http://www.sigb.net/doc/en_UK/html-install/index.html ). NC tags on documentation don't seem to be a restricting to commercial usage.

Sure I forgot other arguments but I think it makes sense and could justify a NC tag. Again, I have been written a long post, I'm too talkative ;-) That's why I decided to become a teacher I guess!

Best regards from Belgium!



Welcome to the fun world of licensing.  These things have an unfortunate tendency to be more complicated than they should be.  

Previously, it's only the hardware designs that were licensed under the CC-BY-SA-NC license.  The text of the site was actually not released under any license, meaning that technically you weren't allowed to make derivatives of it (though I don't think we stopped anyone who did).  

As for mixing licenses, the unfortunate state-of-affairs is that you basically can't.  You need to get permission from the author (copyright holder) of the works and get them to release them under the same licenses.  The latest Creative Commons licenses (3.0) have the possibility of compatible licenses (which is one of the reasons why I like them), but I don't think there actually are any yet.  I think you can include GPL'ed code as a independent listing (i.e. figure) in a document with another license, but you can't actually compose text from sources with different licenses.  

In any case, you should know that a non-commercial clause is fundamentally inconsistent with both the GFDL (i.e. Wikipedia) and most other open-source projects and licenses (e.g. Debian, the GPL, etc).  Yes, someone could try to rip people off by selling a CC-BY-SA licensed document for too much money, but anyone who would do that would probably just ignore whatever license you put on the document and rip people off anyway.

Finally, if you are the creator of a work, you're not bound by the license you release it under.  So a commercial entity is free to release work under a license with a non-commercial clause but to use that work for commercial purposes as well.


Sep 05, 2007, 03:44 am Last Edit: Sep 05, 2007, 03:51 am by Daniel Reason: 1

I see what you are saying but I think what Mellis is saying is the material is meant to be free. Is the material on the site going to be CC-BY-SA Mellis?  ( that sounds like a new license: "CC-Mellis" :) ) I saw you mentioned Public domain at one point in the developer's list. If you need support for that I can arrange a party and a marching band on an hour's notice.

You know, one way to keeop this stuff clear might be to require new members of any part of Arduino.cc to agree to the appropriate license when they sign up. You could also send a bulk mailing telling people that the site was officially coming under CC2.5 or public domain or whatever it's going to be.  

I just looked at the CC2.5 BY-SA license. This stuff is interesting. Stephan, it looks like you are making a "collective work" rather than a "derivative work": the collective is the original material, along with your new work and the work of others. It looks like yes you would have to license the Arduino site material according to whatever license is ultimately decided upon by the team, but you don't have to license the whole collective work you are creating: your part can be NC. The Arduino site stuff has to keep its license, which hasn't been determined. Of course at the moment, without any specific license ont he site, this is all speculation.

If the adopted license for site material is to be CC BY-SA 2.5, they spell  out the collective part of things:

You may distribute, publicly display [etc etc] the Work only under the terms of this License, and You must include a copy of, or the Uniform Resource Identifier for, this License... You may not offer or impose any terms on the Work that alter or restrict the terms of this License or the recipients' exercise of the rights granted hereunder.... The above applies to the Work as incorporated in a Collective Work, but this does not require the Collective Work apart from the Work itself to be made subject to the terms of this License.

So perhaps you can just publish in separate booklets? Arduino stuff under its license, and yours under NC? Kind of a catch-22.

Another  aspects of the argument: under "fair use" academics can generally do whatever they want with the copyrighted material if it for educational purposes, and for use only inside the University. You can't copy whole books, but here in Canada you can copy chapters, for example.

Again, I have been written a long post, I'm too talkative ;-) That's why I decided to become a teacher I guess!

Hey, half of us in here are teachers, I have been blabbing all day to my students. :)



Yeah I have to go blab to a room of students in a few hours too. I think there is a reason why I am an artist and not a copyright attorney. It makes my head hurt. When it gets right down to it I dont understand why we dont just put everything into pd (public domain) and forget about it!? I, like Stephen, started with the reference section for my notebook and added and subtracted from it to make a cohesive whole.... purely for the love of my students. (Must be it I dont know why else I would be so compelled...) Shortly into it I knew I should have written entirely original content but I just didnt have time. I blindly, maybe romantically, believed that gee wiz this is an open source project and surely my altruistic motives to make this stuff easier to learn would just be welcomed into open arms. And absolutely the community and foundation has been supportive of my endeavor, its only been through recent discussions that things have been revealed for their true murky nature.

My concerns unfounded or un-thoughtout as they may be stem from a life emerged in acadamea. I would like my document to remain a placeholder for a more comprehensive, more original work that I hope to one day complete. I dont care that someone might take what Ive done and take off with it. Likewise I have tried to credit anyone whose work or ideas I have used. I stuck the NC tag on precisely to keep things academic... for the time being. I didnt want it to seem like official documentation. (The name comes from F. Mimms and his Mini-Notebook series... and he doesnt write the official docs for all the 555s in the world.) If I am in error I will change it by all means. Its just all these discussions have peeled away a layer of my brain.

Im curious about all the new texts coming to market on Processing. Reas & Fry's book for example is absolutely amazing. But you have a commercial product (the book) on an open source software environment (processing) that contains much of the information that you would see on on an open website. How does that gel? (I recognize it helps that the both of them kinda started the whole thing.) The complexities of the situation are enough to forget the whole endeavor. When I was growing up my dad actually told me once it was often easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission! (Maybe not the wisest thing to do with a teenager.) So I guess by all means Im playing the education card a little and if I need to change something someone will let me know, right?

Ill go ramble at students now...


Sep 05, 2007, 08:32 pm Last Edit: Sep 05, 2007, 08:40 pm by Daniel Reason: 1

this is like the faculty club in here, we just need a bartender.

Reas et al are the original authors of the processing project, so they can take their own mateiral and license it any way they like.

Speaking one academic to another, I think we have got to make this stuff free... Don;t you remeber being a student and not having enough money to buy a text? It should all be fre, we should try to avoid the situation in physical computing right now, where the Physical Computing book costs in excess of 500 USD to outfit  the students in a class of 20. Most of the material we are talking about is very standard... MIT has recently started an open-source initiative that bases itself on the idea that at least part of education, if not the delivery, can be free. Let's harness the power of open-source to make a difference in education.

Why not just give it to them free.. now that's exciting. Sooner or later someone is going to write a free Arduino/electronics text that gets adopted as the standard. Sure, they won't get paid directly, but there's plenty of credibility to be had in free.



It is unfortunate that these things are so complicated.  It would be nice if we didn't need to deal with all the complexities of law just to make something open.  Unfortunately, I don't know of any simple way to handle these issues.  Putting things into the public domain is directly opposed to the idea of a non-commercial license as it allows anyone to do anything with your work, including making closed and commercial derivatives.  That's why I like the share-alike licenses (e.g. GPL, GFDL, and the CC ones): they let anyone do whatever they want, as long as they extend those same freedom to others.  

The issue of closed documentation of open projects is an important one.  Just look everything O'Reilly puts out (including Make).  The time is ripe for open publishing initiatives.  Especially because there are so many free or low-cost means of distribution.  I hope we do see the success of wikibooks and other similar projects.  Certainly those of us working in other open-source areas should try to take the initiative in this.  So far, the only real example I know of is the SVN book at: http://svnbook.red-bean.com/ (although O'Reilly has a list of others: http://www.oreilly.com/openbook/).  Are there others?

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