A version of this post originally appeared on the Shapeways blog.

Licensing is all about setting rules around what people can and cannot do with the stuff you create. If you make something that is protected by copyright, someone else needs your permission in order to make a copy of it. A license is one legal form that permission can take. In many cases, the license essentially says “I give you permission to make a copy of my work as long as you do X”. X can be “pay me $50”. X can also be “give me attribution.”

Technically, the reason that someone else would need your permission to copy your work is because the work is protected by copyright. If they do not get your permission first, you could (at least in theory) sue them for copyright infringement.

There is a flip side to all of this. Not all work is protected by copyright. For example, functional objects are broadly excluded from copyright protection. That means that someone else can copy the functional item you made without legally needing your permission first. They do not have to worry about a license on your work because it is not legally enforceable. In fact, putting a license on a work that is not actually eligible for copyright protection can create all sorts of unintended problems.

All of which means that if you are creating something that is eligible for copyright protection and want to share it with the world, you should release it with a copyright license. And if you are creating something that is not eligible for copyright protection, you should not release it with a copyright license.

Which is all well and good if the thing you create fits obviously into a copyright/not-copyright category. But what if the thing’s copyright status is a bit more ambiguous? Should you err on the side of releasing it with a license just in case? Or should you err on the side of not using a license so you don’t unintentionally complicate things?  This is a real issue in both the world of 3D printing and open source hardware, where many of the objects in those worlds inhabit an ambiguous copyright status.

This is a harder question than you might expect and this blog post does not try to answer it. Instead, this blog post is designed to try and lay out the costs and benefits of each path. It explains what happens if you over-license by applying licenses where no copyright exists, as well as under-license by not applying a license where a copyright does exist. 

It then ends with a plea for your input. The norms around 3D printing and open source hardware, copyright, and licensing are still being established. Although this is an easy question to ignore, there is a benefit to the community coming together to try and come to consensus about expectations. I am trying to pull together some folks to work on this in 2017, and in order for that to end well we will need your help.

Wait, what?

Admittedly, this problem can be a bit abstract. In order to make the following a bit easier to follow, it will probably be helpful to have a specific product in mind. Ideally, it is an object where the copyright status (is it protected by copyright? Is it not protected by copyright?) is unclear. Since I have used this as an example of an object with an ambiguous copyright status in the past, let’s stick with studiogijs’ birdsnest eggcup.  You could pick any number of 3D printed objects or open source hardware projects as an equally good example.

(Note: none of this should be implied to attribute any sort of position about copyright to studiogijs. I am just using the eggcup as an example because it is a good illustration of the type of object that can trigger this kind of problem. The rest of this blog post also assumes that studiogijs wants to share the eggcup under some sort of sharing-oriented license such as Creative Commons, although the core issues are the same if studiogijs wanted to use a more restrictive license)

Birdsnest eggcup quattro by studiogijs

As you may recall, this eggcup combines functional (read: not eligible for copyright protection) elements that allow it to hold an egg and nonfunctional (read: eligible for copyright protection) elements that mimic the look of a birdsnest. Since there is currently a case being decided by the United States Supreme Court trying to determine if this sort of object that combines functional and nonfunctional elements is protected by copyright, it is probably safe to say that the copyright status of the eggcup is ambiguous.

That means it is not totally clear what happens if someone were to make a copy of the eggcup without studiogijs’ permission. If the eggcup is protected by copyright, making a copy without permission would be copyright infringement. If the eggcup is not protected by copyright, making a copy without permission would be (legally) allowed. In the first case – where copying without permission would be copyright infringement – a license would be really useful. In the second case – where copying without permission is totally legal – a license does not matter very much.

But studiogijs cannot do both. They either have to use a license or not use a license. That choice is not a simple as it might seem.

If it turns out that the cup is not protected by copyright, attaching copyright license to it would be an example of over-licensing. Conversely, if it turns out that the cup is protected by copyright, failing to attach a license would be an example of under-licensing. Since right now the copyright status of the cup is unclear and there isn’t an obvious right answer, designers like studiogijs need to decide if they are going to err on the side of over-licensing or under-licensing.

Here are some of the costs and benefits of either path:


Over-licensing would happen if the studiogijs decides to err on the side of the eggcup being protected by copyright and releases it under a copyright license.  If it turns out the the eggcup is protected by copyright, “over-licensing” just becomes “licensing.” The eggcup is protected by copyright and there is a license governing how it can be used.

However, if it turns out that the eggcup is not protected by copyright, “over-licensing” becomes “putting a license where it does not belong.” From a legal standpoint such a license is essentially meaningless: without an underlying copyright, there is no actual punishment for violating the terms of the license. It can be ignored by downstream users. But even this legally meaningless license can send ripples out into the world.

Clear up Ambiguity (Good)

The most obvious impact of over-licensing is to remove ambiguity. While there are plenty of 3D printed things that fit cleanly into a “protected by copyright” and “not protected by copyright” dichotomy, there are also many that fall into a grey area. This grey area can exist because the rules around copyright today are unclear, or because there is a chance that the rules around copyright could evolve in the future.

In either case, adding a copyright license can act as a “just in case” tool. Studiogijs can use the license to assert “this eggcup is probably not protected by copyright, but if it is here’s a license that you can rely on.” That makes it easy for downstream users to confidently make copies of the eggcup under clear rules regardless of the ultimate answer to the “is this protected?” question.

Social Signaling (Good)

This benefit is easy for lawyers to overlook, but it is an important one. Licenses act at a legal level and also (probably more often) at a social level. A well expressed license is an easy way for studiogijs to tell the world “here is how I want you to use my work.” Even if that desire is not supported by the law it can still be quite important to the community. People in a community are motivated by all sorts of impulses not grounded in the formal legal system. If you are a fan of studiogijs you may care how they want people to think about copying the eggcup even if they cannot haul you into court for going against those wishes.

Restriction-Free Licenses Reduce the Downside

A license such as the Creative Commons Zero license would dedicate the eggcup to the public domain. It imposes no restrictions or obligations on the people who would make copies of the eggcup and makes no attempt to control their behavior. In this context, it tells the world “the eggcup is probably not protected by copyright, but if it is I hereby remove its copyright and make it freely available to everyone” while asking for nothing in return. If a studiogijs is relying on a truly restriction-free license in an ambiguous situation, the effect of the over-licensing with this type of restriction-free license is almost all benefit with no cost.

This calculation changes if studiogijs uses a conditional copyright license. Even a very permissive Creative Commons Attribution license could create problems because it places a condition on people who make copies of the eggcup (they are required to give attribution). In this context, such a license tells the world “the eggcup is probably not protected by copyright, but if it is you can use it as long as you give studiogijs credit as the creator.”

If the eggcup really is protected by copyright, such a license is great – all you need to do in order to make a copy is give studiogijs credit. But if the eggcup is not protected by copyright, a person who wants to make a copy might think they are required to credit studiogijs where no legally enforceable requirement exists. In other words, the license attempts to impose obligations on people who want to make copies without the actual ability to do so. That can create confusion and disappointment for everyone involved. All the more so if the relatively benign restriction to give the studiogijs credit is replaced with a more aggressive demand for a royalty payment.

Normalizing Expanded Copyright Protection (Bad)

In addition to possibly imposing obligations that are not legally enforceable, over-using copyright licenses can have a long term effect on how people understand the scope of copyright’s reach. It is not hard to see how “if you are unsure, slap a copyright license on it” can evolve into “the widespread use of copyright licenses in 3D printing means that all 3D printed stuff should be protected by copyright.” That could potentially remove countless objects from the public domain and expand the scope of copyright well beyond its intended bounds. Over-using copyright licenses could evolve into a situation where such licenses are actually legally required.


Under-licensing is the flip side. Instead of releasing the eggcup under a “just in case” copyright license, studiogijs could simply choose to not apply a license at all. In doing so studiogijs is gambling that the eggcup is not protected by copyright so the license is unnecessary.

Avoids Normalizing Expanded Copyright Protection (Good)

Not surprisingly, erring on the side of not using a license can have the opposite effect of erring on the side of using it. If in ambiguous situations there is no license, it will set an expectation that no license is necessary. This expectation could prevent the expansion of copyright to cover these edge cases. This could preserve the public domain as it is today.

Complicates Social Signaling

A license is not the only way to signal to people who want to make copies of the eggcup how studiogijs wants them to do so (if at all), but it is a clear and easy one. Without a license, would be copiers who want to take studiogijs’ wishes into account have to rely on other cues in order to determine how studiogijs might want or not want their work to be used.

Can Prevent Further Use (Bad)

The lack of a license, even in ambiguous situations, can create problems. If a person who wants to make a copy of the eggcup is risk-averse (or is having risk aversion pushed on them by their legal department), the lack of a license clearly granting them permission might prevent them from copying the eggcup even if there is no legal barrier to doing so. Additionally, if it turns out that there is some sort of latent copyright in the eggcup, the lack of a license could legally prevent people from copying it even if studiogijs wanted them to do so.

Which is Better?

I’m still not sure. Trying to weigh all of these factors will be part of 2017. If you have thoughts, please let me know. There is not going to be a real “right” answer. Hopefully we can come together to help form some sort of consensus around which of these not-great options is better.


Technically you can use this setup to make any kind of interactive ice luge.  But I used it to make a Trump head ice luge, so that’s what this post is about.  To be clear, when I say “Trump head ice luge”, I really mean, “Trump head spout on an ice luge”.  This isn’t a giant block of ice shaped like a head.


The central principle here is fairly straightforward.  There is a sensor that detects fluid.  When it detects fluid, it triggers 1) a random audio clip, and 2) a change in light color while the clip is playing.  My version played one of 45 random Trump clips and turned the lighting from the default orange to red for the duration of the clip.

Bill of Materials

- Wood and screws for the rack (I used some 2x4s and plywood)

- Lots of cardboard, newspaper, and trash bags (for the ice, more on this below)

- 1 Arduino

- 1 Adafruit Music Maker Shield 

- 1 liquid flow meter

- Tubing that mates with the flow meter (I just took the meter to the hardware store and wandered around the plumbing area until I found something that worked.)

- Funnel

- Clip

- 2 speakers

- Hot glue gun

- 4 NeoPixel Diffused 8mm Through-Hole LEDs

- A 3D printed head

- Wires and a power supply for the arduino.

- Audio clips

Making the Ice

This is going to take longer than you think.  Clear out space in your freezer and make a cardboard box that will fit.  The box will expand a bit with the ice, so make sure there isn’t anything built into the freezer wall (say, posts to hold racks) before sizing the box.  The box here was 2 pieces of cardboard thick and then wrapped in tape.  It was about 7 inches by 14 inches by 27 inches when all ways said and done.


Roll up the newspaper tightly. Use the resulting tubes to build a track into the inside of the box by taping the tube to the wall of the box.  This will create the channel in the ice luge.


Next line the box with heavy duty garbage bags.  Once you have done that, you can start filling up the box with water.  Depending on the size of your block, expect this to take at least a week.  A few tips:

- Chill the water before adding it to the box

- If possible, create a large block (still smaller  than the one you want to make) of ice to seed your full block of ice.  Put it in the box and then fill the box with water until the block floats. The water in the middle freezes last, so if that water is already ice things will go faster.  Plus the floating ice will suggest that you are creating enough outward pressure on the walls to get a nice groove.

- When water freezes, the ice floats to the top.  That means that even if the ice at the top of the box is solid, there is likely still water at the bottom/in the interior.

- Add enough water to push up against the walls of the box.  That will make sure that your channel is deep when you pull it out.

- It will take longer to freeze than you think.  Turn your freezer down as low as possible.

Eventually, if you are lucky and patient, you will have a block of ice.  When it is time to use the ice, just cut away the box and pull off the trash bags.  It is likely that bits of bag will be frozen into the block.  If you are lucky there aren’t that many.

Making the Head

Fortunately I did not have to model the head myself.  Thingiverse user digitalcoleman had already created a low poly Trump head and licensed it under a CC-BY license.  I downloaded it and used tinkercad to create the voids for the tubes, meter, and LEDs.  You can download my version here

If I had to do it again, I would have created shallow channels in the bottom connecting the spaces for the LEDs.  That would make it easier to connect them with the wires.

Note that if you print the model at scale it is a really long print.  Fortunately Andy at Open Factory hooked me up and printed it for me. Also note that printing it in a clear material makes the LEDs work much better.

The Code

You can download the code here (it’s final.ino.ino).  As noted in the header, I got a lot of help for it in the adafruit forums.  Hopefully the comments are enough to help you figure out how it works. If you are using everything I used, it should just work.  It should also be easy to find the lines to change the colors if that’s your thing.

You will also need to get your audio clips together.  I had about 45.  Label them as track001.mp3, track002.mp3, and so on and put them on the SD card. (There is no link to this on the musicmaker page, but here’s the tutorial for the shield).  The software will randomly pick a track to play every time. It will also know how many tracks there are, so you don’t need to worry about setting that variable in the code or anything.

Putting it Together

Here’s a wiring diagram (it only shows 2 LEDs but my final had 4)(also, when you are wiring the LEDs I had the flat side facing to the right):


I used a hot glue gun to glue the 4 neopixels into the voids at the bottom and then soldered them together. You can see how having channels between the holes would have helped here.  The fifth and sixth hole are for the mounting screws.


The wiring for the sensor can sneak out the back of the head as well.  Once you have that together, just put the tubes in the hole.  You can then mount it on a block of wood.  I found that the default angle for the head wasn’t quite right in my setup so I mounted the head on an angled block of wood.


Finally, you will probably want to mount the tube and funnel.  I designed a clip to hold it in place.  The file is on the github page.


Once it is all wired up, you just have to mount it onto the rack.  Assuming you did the wiring correctly it should be fairly straightforward.  Here’s what it looks like:


I found that even at a pretty loud volume the speakers weren’t quite loud enough for a party full of people.  About half way through I just plugged it into an amp with speakers.  Fortunately there is a headphone out on the MP3 shield so that was super easy.

Oh, and here’s what it looks likes:

This post originally appeared on the OSHWA blog.

Last month at the Open Hardware Summit we announced the start of the OSHWA open source hardware certification program.  Part of that program involved issuing unique IDs (UIDs) for each piece of registered hardware.  Since we knew that low numbers would be hot properties, we decided to wait until the end of October to assign them.  That allowed us to give every piece of hardware registered in the month of October a chance for the lowest possible number.

Today, thanks to the good people at random.org, we have assigned those UIDs to all pieces of hardware registered before the end of October.  We have also started assigning numbers sequentially for all pieces of hardware registered since November started.  You can see all of the registered hardware  here.

There were 60 different projects registered from 9 different countries.  Want to get your own UID?  Register here!

This post originally appeared on the Shapeways blog.

When a cheerleader wears her uniform, is she expressing her identity as a cheerleader or identifying herself as a cheerleader? And could the distinction ever even matter?

This is one version of the question that the U.S. Supreme Court wrestled with today. Its answers could have a big impact on how copyright interacts with 3D printed objects.

The Cheerleader Uniform Case Goes to Court

Today were the Supreme Court oral arguments in the Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands copyright infringement case, which you may remember as the case about cheerleader uniforms we’ve been writing about since lastyear. On its face, the case is about how and whether copyright should protect designs on cheerleader uniforms. We care about it here at Shapeways because it is really about how copyright interacts with objects that combine functional (traditionally not protected by copyright) and non-functional (traditionally protected by copyright) elements in one.

If you are thinking about licensing your 3D printed object or worried that someone is infringing on your work, the first thing you need to know is if the object is protected by copyright at all. The decision in this case could give us a single, clear rule to use in answering that question. Appropriately enough because this is Halloween, it will also be helpful for those of you who think about copyright in relation to costumes and cosplay.

Of course, while those larger questions linger in the backdrop of this case, the immediate question is about cheerleader uniforms. Specifically, it is about the designs on cheerleader uniforms.

As a general rule, copyright law views clothing as “functional” and therefore beyond the scope of copyright protection. In a nutshell, clothing is functional because it keeps you warm, dry, and not-naked. However, designs on clothing (think a flower print on a dress) can be protected by copyright. That is because the designs are not really functional, but rather separable aesthetic elements merely attached to the otherwise functional dress.

Why Are Stripes and Chevrons on Cheerleader Uniforms?

Much of the debate today was about the role of things like stripes and chevrons on cheerleader uniforms. Are they there for “expressive” (read: copyrightable) purposes so that the wearer can express her allegiance with cheerleaders? Or are they there for “functional” (read: not copyrightable) purposes so that the wearer can be identified as a cheerleader? And yes, this distinction also makes copyright lawyers’ heads hurt.

For a case about cheerleaders, there was a lot of discussion about camouflage in Court today. Camouflage as a design in a frame on the wall is probably protected by copyright. After all, on some level it is just an artful arrangement of colors that – at least in a frame on the wall – serves no obvious functional purpose.

However, if you print the same camouflage pattern on a shirt and pair of pants, it can suddenly have the very functional purpose of making it easier to hide in the woods. At that point the pattern would probably become functional and therefore – at least in the shirt and pants context – not eligible for copyright protection.

The stripes and chevrons on a cheerleader uniform can be thought of the same way. On a piece of paper in a frame on the wall, they are just an artistic collection of stripes and chevrons protected by copyright. On a uniform, they may serve important functional purposes: in addition to identifying the wearer as a uniform, they can make the wearer look taller or slimmer, or just reinforce various seams in the uniform itself.

Needless to say, there was also ample discussion of Duchamp, hanging shovels on art gallery walls, and what really constituted art.

What Does This Have to Do With 3D Printing Again?

Abstracted up a level, all of this discussion about putting parts of an object into functional and non-functional categories mirrors the analysis you would do to determine if a 3D printed object that is both functional and artistic would be protected by copyright.

In a previous post we flagged studiogijs’ birdsnest eggcup quattro as an easy example of this. It has functional (holding an egg) and non-functional (looks like a birds nest) properties. A rule coming out of the cheerleader uniform case could provide us with a rule to understand how – if at all – copyright might apply to the eggcup too.

What Happens Now?

It is always dangerous to make projections based on oral argument. It was pretty clear that at least some justices were wary of a decision that would pull all clothing into the world of copyright (at one point Justice Breyer worried that pushing copyright lines deep into clothing would “double the price of women’s clothes” for no real purpose). Many others struggled with how to draw the line between functional and non-functional elements of clothing.

It is no surprise that the Justices struggled drawing this line. Going into this case, there were at least ten different theoretical approaches that courts have used. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will come up with a single test that works for cheerleader uniforms, 3D printed objects, and everything in between.

We will find out once the written opinion is released during the first half of next year. Until then, you can read the transcripts or hear the audio of the arguments (don’t miss Justice Breyer – again – working to understand the relationship between clothing and the context by musing, “The clothes on a hanger do nothing, the clothes on a woman do everything.”)  And let me know if you have thoughts or questions in the comments below or on twitter @MWeinberg2D.

This post originally appeared on the OSHWA blog.


Today the Open Source Hardware Association is excited to announce the OSHWA Open Source Hardware Certification program.  The program allows hardware that complies with the community definition of open source hardware to display a certified open source hardware logo.  It will also make it easier for users of open source hardware to track down documentation and more information.  You can check out the program here, and keep on reading for some information about how it will work.

These companies and organizations have agreed to certify at least one piece of hardware by the end of this year.

Background and Purpose

Almost a year and a half ago, OSHWA announced its intention to explore the creation of an Open Source Hardware certification.  At that point, the open source hardware community had created a community definition of open source hardware and the open source hardware open gear logo.  Both of these were significant contributions to the growth in awareness around open source hardware.

By design, no one owns the term “open source hardware” or the open gear logo.  This allowed both the term and the logo to be widely adopted by the community.  However, it also created a challenge.  In many cases, creators would label their hardware as being open source and use the open gear logo without complying with the community definition.  This created confusion in the community where users were unsure what it really meant when something was labeled “open source hardware”.

The certification is designed to complement the existing open gear logo by bringing clarity to how the creator is using the term “open source hardware”.  Unlike the open gear logo, the certification logo is controlled by OSHWA.  In order to use the certification logo, a hardware creator must make a legally binding promise that their hardware complies with the community definition of open source hardware. That means that when users see the certificated open source hardware logo they know the hardware complies with the community definition of open source hardware.

In the summer of 2015, OSHWA asked the community a number of questions about how a certification might work and what kind of value it might bring.  By the 2015 Open Hardware Summit, those discussions had coalesced around version 1 of the Open Source Hardware Certification Specification.  In the year since, OSHWA has worked with the Juelsgaard Intellectual Property and Innovation Clinic at Stanford University Law School to turn that specification into a fully functional registration system.

The System

Starting today, you can register your hardware for free by certifying that it complies with the community definition of open source hardware.  The registration site –certificate.oshwa.org – has an overview of the process, the text of the license agreement for use of the certification logo, guidelines for how the logo can be used, a history of the certification process, an FAQ related to the certification, a form that allows you to register your hardware, and a directory of registered hardware that includes links to relevant documentation and information.

Upon registration, you will receive the right to use the certification logo and a unique identifier for the registered version of your hardware.


That unique ID has two components.  The first two characters represent a country code.  Open source hardware is a worldwide community, and the country code is an opportunity to recognize and celebrate that fact.  The remaining characters are numbers assigned sequentially based on when the hardware was registered.

The Importance of Your Contribution

One of the critical elements of the certification process is the idea of the creator contribution.  Hardware often involves many third party components outside of the control of the designer.  Therefore, it is unreasonable to require every component of a piece of hardware to be fully open before becoming certified.

The creator contribution rule is an attempt to address this issue. In order to certify a piece of hardware, the creator must fully open any elements of the hardware that is within their control.  If they have the legal ability to license it, it must be licensed openly.  If they created documentation, that documentation must be freely distributed.

If components were created by third parties, the creator does not have the ability to license them or distribute the documentation.  In those cases, the creator merely has to disclose the parts in the bill of materials and certify that they are available without an NDA.  This system allow creators to distribute legitimately open source hardware without creating a (currently) unrealistic burden to find fully open components.


OSHWA has designed this process to be as user friendly and straightforward as possible.  However, it does require users of the certification to make a legally binding promise that they will only use the certification logo on hardware that complies with the community definition.  We recognize that this sort of legal promise can raise concerns or cause uncertainty for some community members.  Therefore, we encourage users to write in to certification@oshwa.org with questions.

While OSHWA will work hard to answer as many questions as possible, some questions may require legal advice.  That is why we have partnered with the Cardozo Law School Tech Startup Clinic.  The clinic has agreed to receive referrals from OSHWA for free and low-cost legal advice regarding the certification process.  We hope to add additional clinics and resources to this program in the future.  (If you are a lawyer who would like to be involved with the referral program, please contact us at certification@oshwa.org).

About Those Unique IDs

Ever since we started discussing unique IDs that were sequential, we’ve gotten variations of a single question: “how can I get a low number?”  In order to give as many community members as possible the opportunity to obtain a coveted low unique ID number, we have decided not to start issuing numbers until the end of October.  All hardware registered before the end of October will be combined into a single pool, from which we will issue IDs starting November 1.  That means that all pieces of hardware registered before the end of the month have an equal opportunity at low registration numbers.  Starting November 1, we will start issuing IDs as hardware is registered.

Version 1

This is the first version of the OSHWA Open Source Hardware Certification program.  It was designed with a great deal of community input and is intended to complement existing pillars of the community.  We hope that you take a look, try it out, and find it useful.  At the same time, we know that as the certification program grows we will find things that can be improved and applications that we failed to anticipate.  That’s why we welcome your thoughts and ideas in the comments of this post, in the forums, in the certification@oshwa.org inbox, and online @OSHWassociation.

In order to provide that feedback, you first need to check out the certification. So stop reading this blog post, click on over to certificate.oshwa.org, and register something!

Don’t have anything documented enough to register?  Bring a project to one of theDocumentation Days around the world (or host your own) as part of Open Hardware Month so you can make it easier for people to build on your stuff.