Keep 3D Printers Unlocked (the comment)

Today I filed comments in support of my petition to expand the scope of the current rule that allows you to unlock your 3D printer and use the material of your choice.

As I explained earlier this year, we are in the middle of an every-three-year process whereby the U.S. Copyright Office gives communities permission to break DRM for specific purposes. In the past, the Copyright Office has included breaking DRM that locks 3D printers to materials from the printer manufacturer on its list.

In addition to requesting a renewal of the 3D printer exemption for the next three years, I also asked the Copyright Office to make two tweaks. The text of the current rule is:

Computer programs that operate 3D printers that employ microchip-reliant technological measures to limit the use of feedstock, when circumvention is accomplished solely for the purpose of using alternative feedstock and not for the purpose of accessing design software, design files, or proprietary data.

The first tweak was to replace feedstock with material. While both of these terms can be used to describe the stuff that printers use to make things, in the time since the original rule was written “material” has been more widely adopted by the industry and community. Updating the language will hopefully avoid any ambiguity in interpreting how it applies

The second tweak was to remove the microchip-reliant language from the exemption. I think that this qualifier is unnecessary. If a printer manufacturer uses DRM to limit third party material, and that DRM falls within the Copyright Office’s authority to regulate, the DRM should fit within the exemption granted by the Copyright Office. Leaving the additional language in the exemption just adds something else that people could litigate over, which would be a waste of everyone’s time.

What happens now? According to the Copyright Office’s website about this process, comments from anyone who opposes this modified exemption are due on February 9 (instructions for filing comments are on the website if you want to oppose it). Replies to those opposition comments (as well as comments from people who have an interest in the issue but do not take a side) are due March 10. If history is any guide, at some point after that the Copyright Office will hold hearings on the proposed exemptions. It is reasonable to expect the new rules by the end of 2021.

(Small) Suggestions for Reforming Copyright

Earlier this year, Senator Thom Tillis (who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the committee that oversees copyright law) circulated a list of questions asking for input about ways to modernize copyright law. A number of organizations submitted extensive, substantive answers to these questions. Piggybacking on that work, I submitted a brief letter calling for two things.

First, I suggested that one way to modernize copyright law for the “digital age” would be to codify the rule that digitizing a physical object does not create a new copyright in the digitization itself. If you make an archival photograph of a Renaissance painting or a 3D scan of a dinosaur bone, you do not get a new copyright in the digital copy (copyright still applies to the original if it is protected by copyright).

The theory behind this rule is pretty straightforward. Copyright does not reward technical skill or effort. Instead, it attaches to creative works. By their very definition, digitizations of physical objects are designed to capture the work as accurately as possible. Injecting creativity into the process would work against that purpose.

This rule already exists in case law. A 1999 case recognized that photographic copies of public domain images do not get a new copyright because those reproductions do not involve original contributions. That logic was extended to 3D scans in 2008 in an opinion by then Judge (now Supreme Court Justice) Gorsuch. Both of these cases build on an earlier Supreme Court case that rejects a ‘sweat of the brow’ theory that would grant copyright in return for effort regardless of creative contribution. Article 14 of the EU’s new Copyright Directive is also designed to prevent at least some digitizations of public domain works from obtaining new copyright protection (here’s a good summary of that effort).

My letter asks Senator Tillis to integrate these conclusions directly into the text of copyright law. That would hopefully be a step towards ending the practice of cultural institutions attaching licenses (even CC licenses!) to digitized versions of objects in the public domain.

Second, I support a bill by Senator Wyden and Representative Lofgren to reform section 1201. This is the part of copyright law that governs DRM, and sets out the process whereby every three years we need to ask for permission to unlock 3D printers (among many other things).

It is strange that the entire unlocking 3D printers conversation happens in the context of copyright law. No one involved is worried that someone will pirate the software that runs 3D printers. Nonetheless, the current version of section 1201 could allow 3D printer manufacturers to use the fact that the printers run on software to prevent users from printing with third party materials.

The fix is simple enough - require a real nexus between a nominal violation of section 1201 and copyright law in order for liability to attach. If this reform was passed, it would likely eliminate the need to ask for permission to unlock 3D printers at all.

What happens now? It is hard to say. I do hope that my response makes Congress think more seriously about codifying the rule that digitizing an object does not create a new copyright. That will help keep the public domain in the public domain as we move into the digital future.

Creating a Live OSHWA Certification Map

Update 2/11/24: The original version of this map didn’t fully work because the OSHWA api paginates the results it provides. The original version did not take that into account, so only displayed the first 100 certifications. The newly updated version downloads all of the entries before creating the map, so it is actually complete. It also includes a count of the total entries and number of countries with certifications in the header. The new code still more or less works the same way, although there is now an initial step to loop through the api until everything is downloaded. You can find the updated version in the repo referenced below. Also, the API key expires every 100 days, so if you are reading this more than 100 days from 2/11/24 and the map is not loading, that may be the problem. There are instructions for getting your own API key in the repo.

With the recent release of the live OSHWA Open Source Hardware Certification API, I wanted to build a map that tracked the live distribution of certified open source hardware across the globe. You can see the map here. You can see the code here. This post explains how it all works.

The map I made is called a choropleth. It uses color intensity to compare the number of pieces of certified hardware between countries. I created it using leaflet.js. I chose leaflet mostly because I learned how to use it on a Coding Train tutorial. That tutorial also taught me how to access APIs, which is another piece of this project.

At a high level, creating the map involves a few steps:

  1. Download information from the OSHWA Open Source Hardware Certification API to get up to date information about all of the certified hardware.

  2. Add the number of pieces of certified hardware to the GeoJSON file. The GeoJSON file is the file that has the geometries for all of the countries so that they can be drawn on the map (and colored appropriately).

  3. Load the map.

  4. Add a layer on top of the map representing the number of pieces of certified hardware.

Downloading the Current Registration Information

The first thing you need to do for the map is get the current information about OSHWA certifications. Once you get an API key, you can look to the API documentation for example code that shows you how to access specific information in specific languages. For this map we are just going to get all of the OSHWA certified hardware projects.

In order to get the data, you can just copy the example code from the documentation. There are two things to keep in mind when you do this.

First, in order to actually get the data from the API into an object that is useful for javascript you need to parse it into a variable:

var data = JSON.parse(this.responseText);

Second, everything else in this code will happen in the place held by the console.log(this.responseText); in the example code. I think doing this causes everything to wait until the API data has been downloaded but I could be very wrong about that.

Unite the JSONs

Once you have the API data you need to combine it with the GeoJSON for the world. The first step is to create an object that contains the certified hardware count per country. That function is called in the var country_counter = countCountry(data); line. That calls the countCountry() function:

function countCountry(input_json) {
  //create a temporary dictionary in the function
  function_country_counter = {};
  //loop through all of the entries
  for (var i = 0; i < input_json.length; i++)
    var country = input_json[i]["country"];

    //this checks to see if the country is in the list
    let result = function_country_counter.hasOwnProperty(country);

    //if the country is not in the dictionary
    if (function_country_counter.hasOwnProperty(country) == false) {
      //add the country with a count 1
      function_country_counter[country] = 1;

    //if the country is in the dictionary
    if (function_country_counter.hasOwnProperty(country) == true) {
      //increment the counter
      function_country_counter[country] = function_country_counter[country] + 1;

  //return the tempoary dictionary
  return function_country_counter;


Once you have the countCountry() object, you can add it to the GeoJSON. The combineJSONs() function adds the HW_COUNT feature to the GeoJSON. It uses what seems like a comically inefficient process for doing this, but that’s what some person on stack overflow suggested and it worked, so…..

unction combineJSONs(country_list, geo_json) {

  for (x in country_list) {

    //apparently the best way to add things to the geojson is to
    //loop over the entire thing every time to see if there is a match
    //and then add the entry when there is
    for (let i = 0; i < geo_json.features.length; i++) {
      // if the name of the country blob in the geo_json
      //being iterated upon equals x, which is the current country
      //from the country_list in the iteration
      if (geo_json.features[i].properties.ADMIN === x){
        //add a new elements that is HW_COUNT:<number of HW from the country_list>
        geo_json.features[i].properties["HW_COUNT"] = country_list[x]

    //now loop over everything again and add a HW_COUNT of 0 to everything else
    for (let i = 0; i < geo_json.features.length; i++) {
      if (geo_json.features[i].properties.HW_COUNT === undefined){
        geo_json.features[i].properties["HW_COUNT"] = 0

    //prints the updated geojson
    //returns the updated geojson


Now you have a combined_jsons object that has all of the geographic information for the countries and the information about how many pieces of hardware is certified in each country.

Make the map

At this point, everything basically follows the leaflet interactive choropleth tutoria. The only real changes I made were:

info.update = function (props) {
  		this._div.innerHTML = '<h4>OSHWA Open Source Hardware Certifications</h4>' +  (props ?
  			'<b>' + props.ADMIN + '</b><br />' + props.HW_COUNT + ' registrations'
  			: 'Hover over a country for registration count');

Updating this section so the title box talked about OSHWA

function getColor(d) {
    return d > 50 ? '#800026' :
        d > 20  ? '#BD0026' :
        d > 10  ? '#E31A1C' :
        d > 5  ? '#FC4E2A' :
        d > 1   ? '#FD8D3C' :

changed the thresholds and colors associated with those thresholds

function style(feature) {
  		return {
  			weight: 1,
  			opacity: 1,
  			color: '#d9d9d9',
  			dashArray: '3',
  			fillOpacity: 0.7,
  			fillColor: getColor(
      weight: 1,
      color: '#666',
      dashArray: '',
      fillOpacity: 0.7

slightly changed the weight and colors of the borders

map.attributionControl.addAttribution('Hardware Registrations from the <a href="">OSHWA Open Source Hardware Certification Program</a>');

changed the attribution light_number

var div = L.DomUtil.create("div", "legend"),
  			grades = [1, 5, 10, 20, 50],
  			labels = [],
  			from, to;

  		for (var i = 0; i < grades.length; i++) {
  			from = grades[i];
  			//to = grades[i + 1];
        to = (grades[i + 1]) - 1;

changed how the legend to match the other cutoffs.

That’s the long and short of it. I hope you take some time to play with the API and build a more interesting visualization than I put together.

Open Source Hardware Weather Report 2020

This post originally appeared on both the Engelberg Center and OSHWA blogs

Today the Engelberg Center, in collaboration with the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) is thrilled to release the 2020 Open Source Hardware Weather Report. The report is a snapshot of the open source hardware community as it exists in 2020, ten years after the first Open Hardware Summit. It helps existing members of the open source hardware community take stock of where it is, and new members of the community understand the state of affairs today.

The open source hardware community has grown tremendously in the past decade. That growth is a testament to the viability of the idea of open source hardware. It can also create challenges when the community wants to talk to itself - let alone create welcoming pathways for new community members.

The 2020 report allows the open source hardware world to collectively identify what is working, share insights, and rally around shared challenges. It distills lessons learned and describes the collective understanding of the state of open source hardware. The report provides guidelines for how open source hardware can be a viable approach to hardware development, as well as identifies situations where open source hardware may not be the strongest approach. It also examines challenges that remain unresolved in 2020, along with opportunities for open source hardware in the future.

Like any weather report, this document is a snapshot of a moment in time. It was originally intended to flow from an in-person workshop held in connection with the tenth anniversary Open Hardware Summit here at the Engelberg Center. When the Summit went virtual, that workshop transformed into a series of interviews with a cross section of the open source hardware community.

Common themes, concerns, and challenges emerged during those discussions. The report provides an opportunity to summarize, distill, and universalize those insights. It makes it easier for the community to understand what is working in most places, and what challenges still demand our collective attention.

While this report is distilled from community input, it will also benefit from additional thoughts, concerns, and observations. That is why, in addition to the ‘stable release’ version captured in the PDF, we have also uploaded it to a github wiki. That is where we invite comments from the community, both on the substance of the report and on the form of the report itself. Let us know if a snapshot report is useful to you, and what we can do to make it more useful in the future.

Finally, thank you to everyone who took the time to contribute to this report. Some - but certainly not all - of them are listed in the acknowledgement section of the report. We also welcome outreach from other members of the community who did not participate this year, especially if they might be interested in participating in a future report.

This post originally appeared on the OSHWA blog

Today we are excited to announce the launch of a read/write API for our Open Source Hardware Certification program. This API will make it easier to apply for certification directly from where you already document your hardware, as well as empower research, visualizations, and explorations of currently certified hardware.

OSHWA’s Open Source Hardware Certification program has long been an easy way for creators and users alike to identify hardware that complies with the community definition of open source hardware. Since its creation in 2016, this free program has certified hardware from over 45 countries on every continent except Antarctica. Whenever you see the certification logo on hardware:

OSHWA certification logo

You know that it complies with the definition and that the documentation can be found using its unique identifier (UID).

What’s New?

The new API supports both read and write access to the certification process.

Write access means that you can submit certification applications directly instead of using the application form. If you already have all of the application information in a system, there is no need to retype them into a webform.

We hope that this will make it easier for entities that certify large amounts of hardware to build the certification process directly into their standard workflow. We are also working with popular platforms to integrate a ‘certify’ button directly into their systems.

Read access gives you access to information about hardware that has already been certified. This will make it easier to explore the data for research, create compelling visualizations of certified hardware, and build customized lenses to understand what is happening in open source hardware.

What Happens Now?

The first thing you can do is start exploring the API itself. The team at Objectively has created detailed documentation, code snippets, and sandboxes that make it easy to test out all of the features.

In the longer term, we hope that the community will build better ways to both submit applications for certification and present information about certified hardware. OSHWA expects to maintain our application form and certification list for the foreseeable future. That being said, we are also happy to share (and possibly cede) the stage to better ways to get information into and out of the system as they come along.

For now, let us know what you do with the API! You can tweet to us @OHSummit or send us an email at