Licenses and copyrights

Hi all,

This isn't really a product design question, but it's the closest category I could think of.

I'm almost done with a project and want to sell it. It's basically a cylinder of lights that do visual tricks. I think the target audience will be boutique art & design shops, but I'd also like to publish the schematic and code and let the open source hardware community muck with it if they want.

I think the Creative Commons Noncommercial license fits best for what I want:

Does anyone have experience with this (or other) licenses, copyrights etc. that they'd be willing to share?


Well most restrictions imposed by a license are a bit academic because if some on wants to break them you have to, one find out and two be prepared to splash out the cash to get lawyers to take to to court. The only ones who will make money are the lawyers.

It may just come down to pricing. As long as the product is offered at a nominal cost (whatever that may be) folk will be more inclined to buy your version rather than roll their own unless there are some very compelling reasons. For example, I own a Chronodot and yet my current boards incorporate the same chip that it’s based on (space constraints prevent the use of the Chronodot…).

Similarly, I remember 20 years ago how a local gallery was selling those plasma gas spheres that feature lots of different colors based on the gas mixture inside. Thousands of bucks a pop… that is until the Chinese started to mass produce them, and suddenly something that you could buy a car with became as precious as a couple of DVDs…

Well most restrictions imposed by a license are a bit academic because if some on wants to break them you have to, one find out and two be prepared to splash out the cash to get lawyers to take to to court. The only ones who will make money are the lawyers.

Couple things... License at least lets you express your intent, so it's clear to the receiver what you expect from them. Often times that's good enough--many people are willing to respect the wishes of the author.

Second... In this case, the law can actually help you. Let's say someone else uses his CC-NC design, and sells it through ANOTHER botique art and design shop. It can be effective to send a cease and desist letter to the shop selling it. If a supplier looks like it might expose you to legal hassle, often it's not worth bothering with them. C&D letters are nowhere near foolproof, they definitely have a non-zero success rate.

Personally, I think a CC BY-NC-SA license is totally appropriate for this use.

I'd also like to publish the ... code ... the Creative Commons Noncommercial license

Bear in mind that the AVR-Libc or Arduino Core license may poison your plans.

Bear in mind that the AVR-Libc or Arduino Core license may poison your plans.

From reading the existing licenses, my understanding is nothing prevents someone from making money on an Arduino-based design like mine. I'm using an ATMega328 with Optiloader, but am not directly using any Arduino-based hardware schematics or circuits (e.g. I'm not embedding a Uno) and the libraries I'm using (e.g. AVR-libc, ds1307) are under retain-copyright or GNU GPL license, which allow commercial work as long as I say something along the lines of:

Portions of this code are Copyright (c) 1999-2010 the avr-libc development team (avr-libc: AVR Libc)

which I already have in my source code.

Mainiacbug expresses what I want to do well. Basically it's: here's my thing. Buy it from me or build your own; here's the plans. Do anything you want with it except sell it; I'm the only one who can do that. I am pretty sure grumpy mike is right in that I won't be able to realistically stop strongly motivated people from stealing my design; my hope is that constantin is right that people will follow the path of least resistance and just buy a prebuilt one from me than construct their own.

That seems to be working for SparkFun, Adafruit, Evil Mad Scientists, etc. Hopefully it will work for me.

Thanks everyone for the advice.


What I add to my sources is:

// (c) copyright 2012 .....
// All rights reserved no ownership is transfered.

even if it is free for personal evealution. I simply make it clear it is intellectual property that I actually legally own.

The problem with that is that you’re not giving the receiver license to use the code or redistribute the code. So they cannot use it in any of their projects, and they cannot incorporate it into anything they put out. Why bother even giving out code, then?

when I grew up everyone was stealing video games, through 3 people or so we used to know someone,
who in turn knew a gang member, involved in cracking warez.

So why bother?

Myself I never steal a movie but you say, if I do not explicitely grant a specific way to use a source code, people actually would be disallowed to do it?

They hacked Sony, big corruption at Olympus, and who knows what.

All this licensing is only harass for loyal, legal users who pay.

Those who leech, blackcopy, steal, they will do it anyway.

Was the same in the 80s you’d loose your expensive floppys because they used sophisticated copy protection actually having defective sectors on purpose.

I have seen Audio CDs, some CD players can play them, some cheaper one’s actually can’t.
DO I need a license printed on the CD granting me to tape the analog audio?

From reading the existing licenses, my understanding is nothing prevents someone from making money on an Arduino-based design like mine.

I never claimed otherwise.

By using LGPL code you may or may not be able to add a non-commercial restriction. I cannot find anyone who has offered an opinion either way. As far as I can tell, with the GPL license, you cannot add a non-commercial restriction.

when I grew up everyone was stealing video games, through 3 people or so we used to know someone,

... sigh, the good old days of sneaker-nets, single-sided disks being converted to double-sided use via hole punches, etc. A more innocent time, when most crackers did their cracking for two purposes: to gain fame (because they'd add another intro splash screen) and because their product was actually more desirable than the original. Today, there is a big money element also, but I doubt the crackers of today take enough pride today to make elaborate splash screens to show off their prowess... After all, it was crackers that showed the world how to do sprites in the outside screen areas on the C64, for example.

I own all of my software, acquired it legally. But I am not a fan of the lengths that some companies go to ensure compliance, MS being the most egregious example.


yes there was considerable enthusiasm, youths turning into assembler wizards,
and colorful intros. If you really look nowadays this Amiga stuff, there was just a bit
too much pride, if you ask me.

No one really cared about a license!

If you ask me all these fancy licenses don't introduce more freedom, there is rarely the case where you'd advance from such a license, without to hire lawyers forehand.

It is a bit an excursion into the paranoid 1970s, where indeed they did not yet intend ordinary consumers to have computers. And these days, you see this attitude resurrected, you buy a phone, you buy a phone 2 times a year, and after some while, you have weird files that you can't delete, some weird phreakers whizzed them into your phone, but you are jailed, "you" are a stupid "user" with no rights even to see the file system.

We should really hail Bill Gates for his MSDOS, it is designed from the roots to give user access to the file system, while all this mobile stuff, they lock out the users, and there are tons of rather useless "apps", and games at the brink of unplayability.

I stopped playing World of Warcraft, they always ask to agree again and again for the 3 licenses loathing over many pages, i agreed 50 times or so altogether, no way of reading all this insanity.

My point is, a license should be crisp and clear, like what I wrote, pointing it out that the intellectual property is actively owned by someone.

I mean, if you write "no ownership is transfered", it does not exclude you can use it for personal purpose. But it does cover for instance the case, a business shark gathering the work of other people, build a product with it, without involving much own efforts, then declaring it as a work of his own, and making money with it.

It is a subtle hint that if you want to use it commercially, you have to get in touch, and reach an agreement, but also in the case of cease and desist for 2 decades already, you'd really not have to bother anymore at all.

Most open source I ever saw is a joke, because the programming style is not always the best, without some PDFs explaining the program logic, without configuration information, without flow chart, all the source codes are pretty much worthless. Yes you can become hacker and hexmonitor what they are doing, you can recompile the kernel but why would you want to.

The only thing is, additional information how the source codes actually work, is sometimes made available commercially.

For a megabytes-large source, there is a lot additional documentation required, if it is absent, you can at best hack it, but it would be better rewriting it yourself.

Think for instance Visual Studio, without the MSDN documentation. Would it be of any use, maybe trying to understand it only by means of some supplied example sources?

Sometimes I can not get rid of the idea these licenses come from the 1990s generation, they had the rave parties, and big enthusiam/idealism exists, but the truth is the situations spelled in these licenses are out-of this world, artificial realities, and the hackers/phreakers/stealers will do so anyway.

My idea is, all this license nonsense should stop alltogether, and there should be some good, powerful and adequate software laws, covering all sort of softwares worldwide. But if you look bodies like the RIAA, the weird things SONY tried to sell to people together with MINI DISC (so called "checkout" system), and all these countless weird copy protection schemes, I don't think we get any such laws soon.

Altogether, having 100s if not 1000s of different software license agreements, is nothing but anarchy! You can't really say that you did read all of the licenses, and that you remember them literally all day. So why not some software laws that are real-world, fair play, and get rid of indidivdual licenses.

Is this what these creative commons guys had in mind? But please, one license only. Not 5 or 6 or 7 with 50 exceptions.

I think the only real law is cash flow! If there was intellectual work, and someone is enjoying the product, then there is cash flow required, unless the author has voluntary intentions or is doing it as a hobby.

But all these school maths are useless anyway, you learn to memorize complicated formula, but then you can't even realize the fact we drive 4 seats cars, most of the time, only one person driving. What a waste, and very simple maths.

Bottom line is money. Licenses, agreements, patents, etc. are nice but at the end of the day someone, somehow has to ensure compliance. That costs a lot of money, which in turn means that larger companies, all other things being equal will have the upper hand. The long legal documents we get to scroll through are frequently attempts to abridge rights that we cannot sign away, etc. in the hopes that they will stop contingency lawyers. Hence also the frequent requirement by companies to compel you into arbitration (on their turf, by their rules) rather than open court.

Exceptions like the gentleman who recently won $850 from AT&T (and they're appealing) for having his end of the contract broken are the exception that proves the rule.

I don't think I see anything new under the sun here. What point is trying to be made here? That the 'little guy' is disadvantaged and under the thumb and whim of the more powerful resource and lawyered up rich guys or companies? Well duh, that has always been the case even before the invention of the computer and software as a form of IP. Do you think the invention of independent authored software would include in itself the means to solve past, present and future IP violations? In the real world the rule of law and it's promised protections is subject to the same restrictions and limitations as any other human activity.

I think the open software concept is more then the just it's attempt at making copyright/IP protections work for individual and small self financed groups. It's also an attempt to hand over and share the IP for continued development and maintenance to a larger voluntary user community, in hopes said community can grow the product more and better then the original creator(s). Using open source licences in the hope that one can in addition also possibly profit in the future is probably a little optimistic.

If IP protection is your highest priority, then you are probably best off just to forget about open source publishing and licensing at all. Just don't release the source, set the protection bits appropriately and sell the chips with your software already installed onto the chip. Not perfect protection, but it will take some investment and effort to break and steal your IP. Otherwise just release it as open source and hope the reputation and future financial opportunities you gain over time will be the real value and reward you gain from your effort. Consider it a form of free advertising and the world will beat a path to your door because your talent will be more widely known.


It greatly depends on which version of LGPL/GPL you are using.
Using LGPL is pretty much a non issue, you can use it pretty much in any way and not have to open up your code.
The Arduino code is LGPL and so is Michaels 1307 RTC code.
If you use any GPL 3.0 code in your code you are compelled to share/open your code.

If your code is GPL 3.0 then you don't have many options as to what you can restrict.
The GPL 3.0 license is very strict on on what cannot be restricted.

I'm pretty sure that If your code is GPL 2.x then you have some capability to create you own
custom restrictions on what can be done and how the code can be used.

I believe if you use any LGPL v3 or GPL v3 code you cannot license your code as GPL 2.x

Some projects will not jump up to GPL 3.0 because they don't want
to lose the ability to extend their license with some custom restrictions which was available in GPL 2.x
nor impose some of the additional sharing requirements that GPL 3.0 mandates.

---- bill

Thanks everybody for your input. Very useful information.


I'm in a similar position, just getting ready to launch a product and here is my take on it:

I've read the biography on Steve Jobs and found it very puzzling that such an intelligent fellow got so hung up on people copying his innovations. I know that are a million arguments for the other side, but every true innovator knows they are doing something to benefit humanity at large. It might sound over-the-top, but when you work to make the world a better place, the work you do is meant for everyone to benefit from. The lingering fear is that someone will take advantage of your idea and make money and exploit something that they really did not work for. But I think open hardware (and software) offers a solution. It's a new model, a new paradigm, and that means we, who know the old system have the duty to make the transition work. I'm serious. I believe that in 50 years or so, everything will be open, because the model is simply better. Open hardware sounds pretty futuristic to me.

The open hardware movement basically keeps all the greedy investors very far away. It's too risky, for them. But for those willing to work things out, get their hands dirty, and create, open hardware means uncapped potential to create new things, using the resource of combined knowledge and expertise. The old economic systems are falling apart because the people with the money are not the actual people who make things. Open hardware, for me means that I add my knowledge to a community of creators who keep multiplying the energy and innovation.

There is probably a license that will keep copycat projects from springing up while at the same time encouraging people to innovate. For me, It's not so much about preventing people from making money from it, as it is about keeping someone from just ripping it off. If someone wants to add their bag of tricks to what I made and sell it, how is that any different from what I have done? I mean, without the prototyping boards, it would have taken at least another year of research to get to market.

I think we are in a new position, because the underlying models of business and innovation are shifting, and yes, it's a big hairy mess of a thing to figure out, but that is why we love it.
I think when you really innovate, you create something in your own way, and that's what attracts people. It's not actually about the mechanics, but the sale is made based on your unique angle or approach. Another perspective is that a copy only opens public to the awareness of your product. If you can prove that your's is the best, you have made the sale and used the copier as a marketing tool.


As a graphic artist (photographer) I can tell you that you live a fantasy.

When produced content (be it written words, music, images, whatever the media) is copied, the person who made it doesn't benefit. Your selfish and foolish "Artists should create for free" and "Engineers should create for free" justification for theft makes it obvious that you've never actually had to make a living.

Ironically enough, this post:

was directly above yours in the forum. That post, someone was asking for advice on a project from an illegal pdf copy of an Arduino book written by a frequent forum poster here.

If he makes his livelihood writing books, how is ever going to be paid? How can he support himself?


While I agree that creative artists, engineers, etc. can benefit significantly from copyright laws and other forms of intellectual property protection, I still come back to the issue of enforcement. How to do it cost-effectively, etc.

I have found multiple sites on the internet hosting stuff that was ripped off my site and simply have to accept that these things can and will continue to happen, as long as one puts the information out there for people to browse. Given that the content is freely available, the high uptime of my site, and the good bandwidth, the only motivation I could think of is lazy bums who wanted to supplement their crummy site with content for higher SEO rankings.

That said, I doubt that the current trend towards ever-longer copyrights (i.e. Disney clauses), content restrictions, or other attempts by content providers to whine, cajole, and otherwise bother consumers into buying over-priced content will ultimately be successful. One obvious example is the incredibly successful Disney model, where content is strategically made available and removed again in order to keep prices high.

IMO, the best way forward is an a-la-carte menu where users repay convenient and affordable access to content by sticking to legal sources, such as iTunes for music.