Open Source Ethics and Dead End Derivatives

Posted by on Thursday, March 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

Update: The source files have been documented and that documentation can be found here. They are PDFs for now, which is a first step towards publishing the source files. The original files are still not there. If you’d like to see the original files these are derived from to compare, you can find the motherboard here, the stepper driver here, the extruder controller here, and the endstop here,


Open Source Hardware is hardware that has an open license. You can copy it, develop it, and even sell it yourself. You must provide attribution to the designer and you must also release the derivative source files under the same license. This applies even if you use a proprietary program for your designs.

Sometimes an individual or a company makes a derivative of an open source project, goes to market with it and then doesn’t share their derivative designs with their changes. This is not only against the license, but it’s also not ethical. It is a dead end for the innovation and development which is the heart of the open source hardware community.

Right now there are some folks on the RepRap forums that are selling a derivative of our electronics. They’ve stated that they’ve modified our designs to make them more compact. There is absolutely nothing wrong with creating a derivative and selling it as long as you provide the source files.

The problem is that they have not published their source files. They have promised to publish a PDF of a picture of the boards, which isn’t sufficient and that promise was made a while ago. If you modify an open source design, you are required to release your source files. If you believe in the power of open source and community innovation, you’ll release them in the preferred format for modification. A PDF of the boards is not a format that invites modification.  Although gerber files, which are the files generated for manufacturing electronics, aren’t easy for the community to build on, they would have shown the community what changed and been a step towards sharing source files.

What would have been awesome is if they had used our designs, improved on them, and then published their source files. Just copying the design doesn’t bring much innovation to the community and it’s not the classiest move, but it’s within the license for anyone to copy us and manufacture identical boards. If they were to share the design files, we could see what they did to make them so tiny and the community could learn from that. Not only does this impact us financially, but most importantly it slows innovation within the community and sets a bad example for all.

It’s theoretically possible that they have released their source files and I couldn’t find them. If they exist, please comment below so that if we are wrong, we can get the story straight!

Note: See the update above. The documentation process is in process.

At MakerBot, we take open source seriously. It’s a way of life for us. We share our design files when we release a project because we know that it’s important for our users to know that a MakerBot is not a black box. With MakerBot, you get not only a machine that makes things for you, but you also get an education into how the machine works and you can truly own it and have access to all the designs that went into it! When people take designs that are open and they close them, they are creating a dead end where people will not be able to understand their machines and they will not be able to develop on them.

Open source hardware relies on ethics to work. It’s possible to legally chase down folks who break the terms of a license but in most cases the community will usually take care of it by confronting derivatives and not buying from individuals and companies that are building on others work and not releasing their source. I wish there was a public service announcement that would let people who are buying open source electronics to make sure that the design files have been published.

The door is still open for them to make this right. From the tone of their forum post, they are having trouble posting their files, which is something that should have been done before they started selling their derivative electronics kits. We invite them to send us an email at contact(*at*)makerbot(*dot*)com with their derivative files and we’ll publish them. If we have any updates, we’ll post them here.

Got an opinion? We’d love to hear it in the comments!

Photo credit – Creative Commons Share Alike: gfpeck

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50 Comments so far

  • Open Source Ethics and Dead End Derivatives - MakerBot Industries | Open Hacking
    March 25, 2010 at 11:19 am

    […] the original post:  Open Source Ethics and Dead End Derivatives – MakerBot Industries This entry was posted on Thursday, March 25th, 2010 at 11:13 am and is filed under News, […]

  • voretaq7
    March 25, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    I have mixed feelings here: If all they did was change the board layout I personally don’t care if they share their new layout (though from a legal standpoint the license certainly does!). To me the circuit schematic is what matters, and the board layout is something I can come up with on my own (which is what it sounds like these folks did).

    It seems like the inherent problem here is that Kimberly’s “preferred format for modifying” and everyone else’s seem to be at odds, and the software she’s using doesn’t let her export the data in a community-friendly way.

    In this case Kimberly should provide the editable file generated by her layout software, which IMO would satisfy the GPL requirement as it is her “preferred format for modifying”. I see this as analogous to someone rewriting the Linux kernel in Pascal (the kind of source code has changed, but the obligation to distribute that modified source code still remains). I’m no lawyer though…

  • spiffed
    March 25, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Reading through the forum thread, it’s been re-created in a PCB vendor locked environment (think PAD2PAD). The vast majority of these don’t support Eagle .sch import so it’s almost certain they’ve re-created the schematic and layout from scratch. How this fits into the GPL requirements for a derivative work isn’t clear to me. It’s been brought up with regard to software here and here (from a quick google) but without a solid answer in either case.

  • Rashad Glover
    March 25, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    I had a dream last night and I call it the “Google Cupcake”. What if Google teamed up with Makerbot/RepRap projects? Now, I love Sketchup and have used it since 2004 and feel like it one of the easiest CAD solutions out there. Bre and his team could easily write a ruby script or some type of plug in that will add Replicator G into the interface> then slice and print from Sketup Free to the Makerbot. As for large CAD architectural projects, the ruby script plugin could scale and slice models for projects like that Church that one guy drew in the Makerbot Blog about a week ago.
    Then with Google’s capital, Bre and the Makerbot team can obtain a contract with a domestic or foreign company that will assemble the Makerbots/components (Google Makerbot) and sell them already put together. Now every body who uses Sketchup will want a Makerbot because they don’t have to put it together and they know how to use sketcup. Also, Google and Makerbot could release every thing open source Like they already do.
    Also Google and Makerbot can merge with the Google 3D ware house ware house. This Idea could change the world forever. Seriously a Makerbot in every house with the ease of Sketchup. Imagine “The Bot Cave” as “the Bot Factory” with financial backing and support of Google. I would also like to see a html or plug in so people like myself could embed cad files on websites and blogs like’s.
    Makerbot has already done all of the hard work. Google just needs to invest. Take that Microsoft!!!!
    And I would like a job as VP of Educational Sales for Makerbot (aka Google Cupcake) .

    My frat brother in China that has a factory that can make anything. He told me what ever they make gets stolen the next week. Wigs, bathtubs, hats, toys everything. You have to make great products and market them faster better and smater. thats just the way it is. Itwas kind of hard for me to accept what he told me. But you just have to be the best. Right Now Makerbot is on top and has a great community. No copy cat compete with the level of service and trust we have with the makerbot team and Bre Pettis’s name.

    Rashad Glover
    [email protected]

  • Lawrence Kincheloe
    March 25, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    Noncommercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
    Or why this issue isn’t going to go away any time soon.

    The “Dead End” image is licensed under CC -NC and there was no explicit mention of permission to use the image in a commercial context. Since it could be argued that the use of the image in a company blog constitutes commercial use, I’m going to point out that the use of the image is in violation of the CC -NC Licenses.

    The point is that Open Source Hardware is in its infancy, and the community at large is mostly ignorant of how to be good citizens.

    Remember, be good and consider cleaning up your development processes so it is easier to contribute to the latest designs.

    <a href="; title="The Case for Free Use: Reasons Not to Use a Creative Commons -NC License"

  • Sebastien Bailard
    March 25, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    I’m rather annoyed by your behavior just now, Bre. In an open source community like ours, it is extremely inappropriate to call out one of our fellow RepRap user-developers for wrongful behavior without a doing a bit of investigation to make sure you have your facts right. If your first step is to tack up a nasty note on your blog, well …

    In truth:

    Kimberly is working with me to get all of those files up into the RepRap wiki.

    I think the sticking point was that she believed that since she was using a non-open-source electronics ‘FooECAD’ (or similar), the native .fooecad files would be useless to us. So she offered what she thought was the best alternative, the .pdf files she could make for us. In the spirit of fair dealing and all that.

    Now, after a bit of discussion, we’re all clear that we should have all the files up in the RepRap wiki, even the the .fooecad ones.

    Bre, in the future, please don’t accuse people of acting wrongly without doing a bit of investigation. It’s unethical, frankly.

  • Sebastien Bailard
    March 25, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    We’ll be hosting the documentation and files here:

    Originally, there was a bit of a hiccup, and a page was created here:

  • anonymous coward
    March 25, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Wow, just wow.

    The guy has been offering to do what he can without violating the PCB manufacturers terms of use and you complain? He’s been trying to figure out how to convert it, and even Sabastian is helping get a wiki going. Converting from something proprietary into non-proprietary isn’t trivial but you don’t even offer him the benefit of the doubt, nor the time to redo it in something that others could use better than PDF. PDF isn’t IDEAL but it can be used to reproduce his work. Just because you prefer Gerber doesn’t mean that was the best/cheapest option for him and/or his supplier.

    Yes he’s trying to make a buck, so are you. We all stand on the shoulders of Giants; even MakerBot.

    So lets all get along and not make waves over the little things. Instead offer to help in a constructive way. Destructive posts like yours do nothing but deter new people from wanting to be involved.

  • Sebastien Bailard
    March 25, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    Whoops, missing quotation mark – I’m spoiled by being able to preview on some systems.

    Old bad URL for the Generation 3 RepRap Electronics:
    Good new URL:

    I’ll look forward to you posting an update, if you like, but you may want to wait until Kimberly has finished tidying up that wiki page.

  • Bre Pettis
    March 25, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    This is a good conversation. There is a lot to respond to.

    The main thing here is that if folks make a derivative of an open source hardware project, the expectation is that the new derivative files will be published. I think it’s fair that they should be published by the time the derivative comes to market.

    I’m clear in this post that using the Gen3 files isn’t against the open source ethics, it’s the publishing that’s been missing here and it’s been missing for a while. The RepRap community has been asking for it on the linked forum page since February 2nd and it hadn’t happened yet. I let it sit with me for about a week to see if it would resolve itself. It didn’t and so I blogged.

    My goal is not to stop them from doing business, but to make sure that the expectations when you build on open source projects are clear.

    @voretaq Yeah, it’s true that the schematic is the lifeblood of electronics. But I think that folks who get the electronics should have the benefit of seeing how things are routed. That’s part of the design and part of the awesomeness surrounding open electronics. Having the board files makes it really easy to diagnose and troubleshoot things when they go wrong.

    @spiffed Yeah, I think that it’s great when open projects make it easy to build on them. There weren’t any of those and a PDF had been promised for a while without anything happening there. I don’t feel that a pdf is equal to source files, if you can publish a pdf you can publish the files.

    @Lawrence Kincheloe I brought this up with the folks over at creative commons a while ago and blogging is considered fair use of images under this license, thus the “blog this” button on Flickr. I see your point though and I believe in being held responsible to my community and so I changed it to a photo with an attribution share alike license.

    @Sebastien Bailard I don’t see this as a nasty note but more of a call to action. The responses on the RepRap forums hadn’t gotten the files published and it seemed like a good thing to step it up since it had been almost two months since they went to market with their electronics. I think we’re actually agreeing. As soon as the files are up, I’m looking forward to pointing folks both to the documentation. We’re on the same team. We’re all pushing forward the dream of a 3D printed tomorrow and a healthy ecosystem with options supports that. In this world of Open Source Hardware, there are some expectations around publishing source code and I stand by my call to action to get the design files published and I am glad you agree that it’s overdue.

    Thank you for setting up the infrastructure for the future location of the files. From the looks of your docs, there are significant changes that have been made to the boards which is contrary to the way they are described in the forum posts. I applaud your efforts to get the documentation for these up on the internet.

    @anonymous coward Hey, if I had seen that the source had been published, I wouldn’t have written this:

    “It’s theoretically possible that they have released their source files and I couldn’t find them. If they exist, please comment below so that if we are wrong, we can get the story straight!”

    We are all standing on each other shoulders. It’s important that the documentation is there, accessible, and complete so that the “human pyramid” of open 3D printing innovation can always be built up to the next level by anyone willing to put in the time and effort!

  • cyrozap
    March 25, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    To clarify some things a little:

    This is not just a more compact electronic set, this is a set of electronics intended to be used on a RepRap running a Gcode interpreter and the host computer using Adrian’s host software. Normally, if you buy the MakerBot electronics, they have to be modified to work with the RepRap software. These are essentially permanently pre-modified electronics. They do not have RJ-45 connectors, no 24-pin ATX PSU header, no molex connectors for the stepper drivers, and the mainboard is probably pre-wired to run off of the USB power connection to the computer (at least, that’s what the boards modded by Adrian + Co. are set to do).

    They probably wouldn’t work on a MakerBot if you were using ReplicatorG. If you were using Adrian’s RepRap host software and everything, though, you would then have a MakerBot that was more like a RepStrap. I don’t see the practicality of doing this unless you want a stepper motor extruder (2 I2C lines on the mainboard are used as step and dir pins and are connected to digital inputs on the extruder board; RS485 isn’t fast enough to drive a stepper extruder unless the extruder’s arduino was doing all the step control and start, stop, and reverse commands were just sent over the RS485).

  • reporter
    March 25, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    Come on Bre, tell the truth.

    Are you more interested in the users of your competition’s electronics, or that you presell all those out of date electronics you are hawking in your other blog post?

  • Bre Pettis
    March 25, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    @cryozap Wow, you really looked into it. Cool.

    @reporter We underestimated the amount of people who want to order Gen3 electronics and we sold out the last two batches of them in a day each time which made a lot of people frustrated. We keep ordering more but it’s hasn’t been enough to meet demand. We’re fixing this problem of scarcity by ordering a metric crap-ton of them and I want it to be easy for people to get them and not have to worry about checking in everyday to see if they are in the store.

    The Gen3 electronics are solid, but if you have ideas for improvements let us know! We’re good at taking constructive criticism and suggestions.

  • Bill2or3
    March 25, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    When a supplier of closed-source goods provides them, they are paid in money.

    When an Open source project is used to release a new product, that work is not lowercase-f-free, but the is still to be paid for, in the form of releasing the results of the work put into that new product.

    The work that went into the improvements have value, and that value is the cost of using the original project as a base for the new product.

    As with any other supplier of goods/services Makerbot is right in expecting to be paid,
    that the payment isn’t in the form of cold hard cash has no bearing on that.

    If you were to call Digikey and ask them to send you a batch of parts, saying “I’ll work on paying for those parts soon”, you wouldn’t get far.

    The GFDL doesn’t include any 90-day credit terms, if you release a derivative without complying with the license, you’re simply not paying your bills.

    Releasing source files at the ship-date of the derivative product is the right thing to do, and is as important as paying Digikey for the physical parts used to make the boards.

  • Sebastien Bailard
    March 25, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    As with any other supplier of goods/services Makerbot is right in expecting to be paid, that the payment isn’t in the form of cold hard cash has no bearing on that.

    Yes, well, this is a RepRap user-developer doing up a variation on generation 3 RepRap electronics, and being reasonably diligent about providing useful source code files when other RepRap user-developers point out said files would be helpful and interesting.

    So, I still think it was inappropriate for Bre to use his blog as a soapbox for public accusations / a call-to-action. A polite email to me and Kimberly or a forum post by him inquiring as to the status of the files would have warranted, perhaps.

    But, inasmuch as Kimberly was already working on getting those files up, all this righteous moral indignation seems to just generate unnecessary conflict.

  • Roland Turner
    March 25, 2010 at 11:26 pm


    I understand entirely the sentiment behind your post and don’t want to get into the substance of the debate – as you and others are far better informed to do so – but I’d like to clear up a potentially harmful misuse of the term “open source”.

    (For the record, I am not a professional in this area but do have some background in it: amongst other things, it was I who proposed to the Mozilla folks the multi-license structure that was later adopted for Firefox etc.).

    Roughly, “open source” refers to works:
    – whose source form (preferred form for making modifications) is available to those who receive the completed form of the work
    – where those recipients are free to create and distribute derivative works
    – where those recipients are _free_ (but may, or may not, be _required_) to make derivative works available to others under the same terms.

    (Full definition: )

    You appear to be using the term “open source” to refer to copyleft (or “Attribution-Share Alike” in Creative Commons terms). Copyleft is a [very] important subset of open-source, its primary license (the Gnu GPL) is also the single most widely used open-source license, however most open-source licenses are not copyleft and most open-source works are not under copyleft licenses. That is, most open-source works can be rolled into derivative works and distributed _without_ making the modified sources available to those who receive the derivative work, which is an entirely ethical action so long as it is done with the free consent of the authors (which is what their choosing a non-copyleft license amounts to).

    As an aside, this distinction matters a great deal to the Free Software Foundation who originated the terms “Free Software” and “Copyleft” along with the Gnu GPL and friends. Stallman in particular sees the important thing as being about freedom from control by others (particularly from those with market power) rather than about the ability to share source per se and, for that reason, objects strongly to the term “open source” (preferring “Free Software” despite its ambiguity in English).

    On the ethical question, a detailed analysis would exceed what I could reasonably attach as a comment to your posting, but note that in most cases ethical arguments are necessarily so subjective that words end up meaning whatever people want them to and the argument becomes an unproductive excuse for exchanging insults.

    Fortunately we have both the freedom to state whatever terms we wish on a license (as distinct from a contract) and a sufficiently mature set of licenses to choose from that the difficult ethical debate resolves rapidly and appropriately into a straightforward legal one: in this case you’ve elected to publish your source under the Gnu GPL which places upon people distributing derivative works quite specific obligations in return for the immense benefit of being able to derive from your work. If they’re not able to meet those obligations, then they’re not legally entitled to distribute. Period. Distributing when they can’t, or haven’t gotten around to, meeting those obligations is a copyright infringement in exactly the same sense that distributing “pirate” copies of Avatar is.

    I wouldn’t suggest mounting an infringement suit, but there’s no need to make weak ethical arguments here. A more productive approach might have been to point out, in private, that they were breaking the law and to request that they suspend distribution (of both designs and physical products) until _after_ they’ve met the terms of the license. This may still be a sensible approach. It’s worth noting that Moglen (FSF’s counsel) claims a 100% success rate in getting compliance without once having to file suit, presumably because once people realise that what they’re doing is illegal (criminal in some jurisdictions) and readily actionable but that the plaintiff’s lawyer is more interested in compliance than money, they’ll jump at the opportunity to comply, thereby avoiding crippling legal costs.

    I’d also suggest that you _clearly_ label your source files. I had to dig at some length to even find a specified license for the CupCake CNC (it’s present in the Thingiverse listing).

    – Raz

  • Peter
    March 25, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    I let it sit with me for about a week to see if it would resolve itself. It didn’t and so I…

    I think it’s fair that…

    I don’t feel that a pdf…

    But I think that folks….

    I believe in being held responsible to my community…

    Bre, This post has very little to do with ethics. It’s more about you potentially loosing your “spot” on the homemade 3D printing pecking order.

  • Jacob
    March 26, 2010 at 1:45 am

    I think that Bre is right here. Makerbot released the boards under a copyleft license, so Kimberly’s action in releasing a derivative without the source is in violation of that license.

    Makerbot and its people deserve credit for a significant amount of the innovation in those boards; this, in turn, is probably built on other peoples’ innovations in previous iterations. Making closed source derivatives takes the effort that Makerbot has invested, without repaying them by disclosing the improvements. It’s not a fair deal.

  • Four short links: 26 March 2010 « Murder Manual
    March 26, 2010 at 5:51 am

    […] Open Source Ethics and Dead End Derivatives — open source hardware is dealing with the problem of people changing open source designs but not publishing their modified source. Open source software hasn’t found an efficient and reproducible mechanism for dealing with this, though I’d love to be shown one. (via bre on Twitter) […]

  • Bre Pettis
    March 26, 2010 at 7:45 am

    @Raz – You bring up good points. All taken. We’ve got the license right on the physical boards, but point well taken about ease of finding them.

    @Peter – It bums me out that you think I’m that shallow, but you are welcome to your opinions. Open source designs are free for the taking and you have to provide your source files when we are making a derivative and that’s basically it. We each, as a part of a community devoted to standing on each others shoulders, need to do our part.

    @Sebastien Bailard – I don’t see any conflict here and it’s a bummer that you feel that way. I’m thankful that you are taking the lead to put the documentation up.

  • Cid Vilas
    March 26, 2010 at 8:34 am

    Wow! This turned out really bad. I would only like to say, it is very disappointing and difficult when someone creates a derivative and does not go open source with their design. Regardless of whether they have a right to go open or not, its simply rude. Considering that you are really building on the work of others, even if its simply creating a module to interface with a machine, its still built on top of that design.

    With that said, i think Bre bit off more then he could chew, not that he did not have a point and had good intentions from the start. I dont think he or anyone deserves to be called out and judged. The blog post does not name any specific individuals when speaking about open/closed source and how it affects the community. I would not have known Kimberly or Sebastian were even the ones Bre was speaking about until Sebastian posted on the comments.

    I guess what i am saying is that Bre wasnt trying to start a war, he simply wanted to point out the travesty of closing development of open source technology. The original creators have a dream of having the design remain free in order to continue innovation and closing it kills that dream one branch at a time.

  • Cathal
    March 26, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    I gotta agree. really. If I wrote a book under a “by-sa” Creative Commons license, and found someone else publishing a commercial copy that was just “by” while promising to eventually publish a “by-sa”, I’d be justified in complaining.

    Team Makerbot designed and built a set of fantastic electronics that drive the world’s most popular 3D printer. They released the source for those electronics freely and invited people to make derivatives with only one, simple stipulation: that the modified source files be released under a similarly free license.

    When there is only one, simple request like this made, and no price is put on the use of their files, it is certainly the responsibility of the deriver to acquiesce to that simple request from day one.

    Bre’s post is, as previously noted, not even a direct criticism as much as a general complaint against this practise. It is great to hear that the source is in the process of being published for those derivatives, and I’m sure the deriver meant no harm. But, Makerbot were never informed that this was underway! They have every right to be concerned.

    In short, I’m glad the source is being uploaded. But please people, don’t go accusing Bre of being mean. All Makerbot *ever* asked in exchange for the files was attribution, sharealike. They’ve never even openly aspired to “Being the dominant player someday”, rather “Making 3D printing go mainstream”. They’re good people.

  • Four short links: 26 March 2010 | Tech News From All Over The Net
    March 26, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    […] Open Source Ethics and Dead End Derivatives — open source hardware is dealing with the problem of people changing open source designs but not publishing their modified source. Open source software hasn’t found an efficient and reproducible mechanism for dealing with this, though I’d love to be shown one. (via bre on Twitter) […]

  • Gerard
    March 26, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Previous two posters: Of course Bre was calling out Kimberly and Sebastian directly, “some folks” in his post is a link to exactly their forum thread, so this was not just a “general criticism of the practise”.

    Bre, if you didn’t contact the two in private, via email or direct message on the forum, and did *not* receive a negative reply, then your post here is extremely rude. This might very well be the first contact Kimberly has had with open-source development (and the GPL specifically – note that she might be as confused about the difference between open-source development philosophy and actual license as you – and if she’s only been in contact with the BSD or MIT license before, then her not getting why she *should* publish her source files is perfectly understandable.

    And just one more thing: The GPL does in *no way* oblige her to post her sources on the internet – All it says is that she *must* make her derivative’s sources available to anyone asking for it, at material cost. Thus, if she resorts to only giving the sources to people who ask her via email, this is *still* perfectly aligned with the license.

    I can only imagine how hurtful it must be for her to come to RepRap project with good intentions, probably her first foray into open-source communities, and the first thing you do to her is write a snide remark like “oh, I replied to this thread on my huge blog that’s extremely visible within the community, where I can call you a jerk for everyone to see.”. There would have been way, way more dignified ways to handle this, Bre.

    The quick succession of this post and the “preorder our gen3 sets” posts leaves an extremely stale taste in my mouth. In any case, your point is definitely valid – published derivatives of GPL’d work needs to be GPL’d as well – but your handling of the situation has definitely not been an ardent example of what I imagine a community driven by “awesomeness” to be like.

  • Reece Arnott
    March 27, 2010 at 12:13 am

    Hopefully this is just another little storm in a teacup but everyone should use this as a learning experience. I see the original situation as someone wanting to do the right thing, being a little unsure of how to do it but trying their best … then Bre comes along and stirs things up.

    I was in a similar situation a while ago and also got “jumped on” for my troubles so I can understand how it feels. I took it as “thats what you get for dealing with people over the internet. Everyone assumes you have the same/more experience with these things as they do and don’t give you the benefit of thinking your problem is just ignorance, not malice”.

    On behalf of the Reprap community I’d like to extend the hand of friendship to Kimberly and say “Sorry, we’re only human.”

    Bre, maybe a better way of handling things next time would be to contact the person via a quick email and see what the problem with releasing the source is. I’m sure you’ve got a big enough name that if it is just ignorance on how to go about it, they would jump at the chance of an offer to mentor them in some small way. You are not just a nameless somebody on the other side of a computer, your words have power. Please try and use it to build people up.

    So, everybody just kiss and make up already!

  • Ed
    March 27, 2010 at 9:17 am


    While I agree with some of your points, I have to disagree with your overall position. A couple of observations:

    1) As many have pointed out, we are in the early stages of the revolution and much hasn’t been defined or even discussed. There is no process as to what is considered timely posting of derived work or what “standard” those documents should be in.

    2) Pointing to a specific discussion of this is not making a general observation, but a very directed attack on them. And I am sorry, waiting a week to have your demands met isn’t fair. Yes, the internet makes it easy to respond quickly but from a casual observer, it does look like they are making efforts to get the files posted. If months had past with no effort on their part, then I might question their motives, but it’s premature to do so now.

    3) While you are clearly a leader in this movement, you are also a business that’s making profits from this venture. That means any statements you make, expecially on your business web site, are going to be scrutinized even more. While I am giving you the benefit of the doubt, I can see how others are seeing this as a way to hamper the competition.

    Are there no entities to drive the creation of standards that we can all follow in this space? (beyond general creative commons/open-source entities) If so your points should be made there, not in your commercial blog. If no entity exists then I say we should look into forming one so that the standards can be created that we all agree upon and then hold each other accountable to.

    Just my two cents.


  • Bre
    March 27, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Phew! This is a passionate discussion.

    A few things came up that I’m willing to take responsability for.

    1. Sebastian isn’t happy with how this went down. After I published this I sent a note to the email in the forum explaining the situation and calling for the publishing of files and offering to help. It would have been better to do this before hand. Lesson learned. Still I feel justified in making the blog post. There is always the potential for folks to “dead end” open source projects and hopefully this whole experience will encourage them to do that at the time of sale. Will it push forward innovation to have derivatives documented in open source hardware? Yes! For anyone who has never documented and published an open source hardware project, it can take time, but the overall positive influence on the project makes it work. Even though Sebastian seems upset about being called out publically and I have some room for improvement in the calling out category, by being public about it, we can all learn an discuss the best ways to make this happen in the future.

    2. I agree that the timing wasn’t the best with the gen3 post, but we got 50 of them in, put them in the store and by the time I finished the blogpost stating they were in stock, they were almost sold out. The biggest complaint we get is that we have things out of stock in the store an so we have to tell people when we do have them. The good news is that we have a lot of them coming into stock and so finally we will be able to meet demand and get more repraps and cnc machines the electonics they need to get started.

    3. I agree that it would be good to have a place to talk about this above and beyond this blog. This isn’t just a going to be a problem for MakerBot, I’m sure this will happen to lots of other open hardware projects. It may even be happening right now and I don’t know about it. I think folks should feel comfortable calling out open source derivatives out if they don’t publish their source. To be honest, writing blogposts calling for documentation (and responding in the comments) is not my favorite activity in the world and I hope that others learn from this coversatopn so it’s not in vain.

  • Bryan
    March 27, 2010 at 9:39 pm


    One possible place for these types of discussions is the open manufacturing google group. In fact, this blog post was picked up over there. I am sure some others might find it interesting as well.

    – Bryan
    1 512 203 0507

  • Sebastien Bailard
    March 28, 2010 at 2:03 am


    In the future, before making public accusations of GPL violations by members of the community, or by commercial entities like your group’s project, please be more diligent.

    I’m perfectly happy with folk like you or Kymberly* monetizing RepRap.

    But public accusations of GPL violation are very serious. What you did is similar to making a public accusation of fraud in the real world. Or a public accusations of plagiarism in academia. Or a public accusation of infidelity in a romantic relationship.

    I, and the extended open source hardware community are “passionate” about ethics and open source. I don’t think it’s ethical to make false accusations.

    I don’t find it surprising that someone like Kymberly might take two or three weeks to get around to documenting her variant on the RepRap Gen 3 Electronics up on the RepRap website. We’re a research collaboration with a small but growing marketplace. Research collaborations often take a while to get around to documentation.

    I am surprised and amused to see a “Dead End” photograph heading a public accusation of GPL violation by the RepRap community. I don’t think RepRap is a dead end, and I don’t think RepRap violates the GPL. We do host the Generation 3 Electronics for RepRap / MakerBot, in the same way that we host the Generation 2 Electronics for RepRap, and the Generation 1 Electronics for RepRap.

    If you have a minute, would you be willing to clean up and maintain the RepRap wiki page for the Generation 4 Electronics, at

    I’m a little worried that the RepRap wiki page and the Makebot wiki page might start to fork otherwise. And I think it’s the responsibility of the user-developer who designs something to maintain the documentation for it. It’s the compassionate and ethical thing to do.

    I realize you may be too busy with sales to get around with it, but many of my fellow RepRap user-developers may, likewise, be too busy to get around to documentation.



  • Cathal
    March 28, 2010 at 2:57 am

    You know, being snippy just hurts your arguments.

    Bre isn’t being “unethical” by calling someone out. Saying so demonstrates a faltering understanding of the word “ethical”, or a confusion with “Polite”. Sure, Bre might have been more “polite” by asking by email first. However, as a joint rights-holder in something released under the GPL, he has *every* right to be as damned rude as he likes when someone shows no meaningful effort to publish source.

    In hindsight, which we all know to be perfect, we now know that Kimberly was publishing the source jointly. That’s great! We’re all delighted to hear it, and I’m certain that, as far as the issue of the derivative boards is concerned, all is enthusiastically forgiven.

    *But*: Bre had seen others ask repeatedly for source, and be met with what seemed like evasive replies, followed by nothing for a while. It is absolutely his right to complain on a commercial blog that the commercial work his company released generously to the community was seemingly being derived from without re-release.

    The accusation that he’s trying to “stay on top” is nonsense at best. He never complained that the boards were being derived, sold or profited from. He only complained that no visible effort was being made to republish the source.

    Print a bridge, and get over it.

  • Sebastien Bailard
    March 28, 2010 at 5:01 am

    Cathal, I think you’re correct that I was a bit snippy just there. I apologize.

    Thank you for pointing that out; I’d rather be fixing all of’s other documentation right now, which affected my mood. Along with making it easier for everyone else to use the wiki to read and document and upload.

    Ah well. 🙂

    Are there no entities to drive the creation of standards that we can all follow in this space? (beyond general creative commons/open-source entities) If so your points should be made there, not in your commercial blog. If no entity exists then I say we should look into forming one so that the standards can be created that we all agree upon and then hold each other accountable to. -Ed

    I don’t think we’ll see an ethics or standards body for open source hardware come into being in our lifetime. And if it did come into being, I don’t think it would ever manage to get anything useful done. Unfortunately.

    We’ve got the GPL, we’ve got the courts, and beyond that, we’re on our own. We can be as rude or polite to each other as we care to be. That is, bounded by statutes regarding libel and slander, which are beyond the scope of this conversation, as neither Bre nor anyone else have made any contrafactual statements or said anything actionable in that regard. Happily. Instead we’re just arguing over interpretation, implication, timeliness, motivation, politeness, and ethics, rather than getting anything useful done. Unhappily.

    Ed, I do agree with you that a commercial blog is the worst possible place to talk about minor matters like “Where are the files?”. People normally address this via a polite email when they are concerned about it. That has been true with open source software, and I think that will continue to be the case with open source hardware.

    Print a bridge, and get over it.
    That’s the best thing to do, really. We can pour gasoline on this issue, or we can water it, or we can walk away from it, as you suggest. We’ve all got more useful things we should be doing right now. This is the kind of thing which goes on and on and on otherwise.

  • Bre Pettis
    March 28, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Ok, post updated! The PDFs are on the RepRap site and I’m looking forward to the files being uploaded. Thanks Sebastian!

  • jonnynogood
    March 28, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    could someone PLEASE update the instructions and or the parts list for the makerbot and make it a little more clear as to what is old material and what is new material online?

    look at that page for example. how old is the design of that makerbot frame that is pictured? it is COMPLETELY misleading to have that up there and have a different design that is current.

    the instructions for batch 10 and higher call for 808 bearings there are none on the parts list

    there are no makerbot made pulleys listed anywhere in the parts list

    there are no pulley bearings listed in the parts list.

    I have been trying to build a makerbot over the past 2 weeks and the amount of incorrect and outdated information on the wiki, in the instructions and on the makerbot site is astonishing to the point that i think its been done on purpose. If you make open source so impossible to follow and clutter it with so much out of date and incorrect information it really completely defeats the purpose of calling something “open source”.

    practice what you preach makerbot.

  • Bre Pettis
    March 28, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    @jonnynogood – Hey, So a few things.

    808 skate bearings were mislabled. They are 608. We recently redid those instructions and looks like there is a typo there. Standard skate bearings are 608 and we use them because they are wonderfully cheap. I fixed the typo and checked the parts list. All good there.

    The MakerBot frame hasn’t changed for a long time, the z stage acrylic has and that’s updated. (In the first few batches it was like a donut, now it’s like a U)

    The MakeBot made pulleys are not in the parts list because since batch 10 we don’t use them anymore. The pulleys originally had makerbot made plastic parts and bearings on the inside. This was replaces with sdpsi part # A 6Z51M036DF0605 which is in the documentation on Thingiverse at

    The MakerBot wiki works but it is editable by anyone and I agree that it is a bit messy with all the notes and additions to it. I see those additions as benefits though because they have been made by users in the spirit of helping others who want to help. We spent weeks on the documentation and Adam recently went through and spent a few days updating the parts that have changed.

    If you’re making one from scratch, you know that it’s not easy getting all these parts together. If you’re making one of our kits and you’re finding that you’re hitting some challenges, you can contact us over email or if you want a faster, more thorough response, you can check in with the MakerBot google group or post to the forum.

    We take pride in our documentation and we do our best to monitor it to make sure that people don’t mess it up to much, but it is open for anyone to modify it. I’m not saying we’re perfect, far from it, but we are doing the best we can. Open source means that the files are open source. Not all open source projects include instructions but we put them there because we are dedicated to making it as easy as we can to make a MakerBot. We’re always trying to improve it and make it easier. If you find specific ways you think the instructions can be improved tell us or feel free to make a note in the wiki that says: “Note: I found a better and easier way to put this together, here’s how I did it.” This note adding, while it can clutter up the instruction process, is great for improving the docs and frankly it improves the machine!

  • Sebastien Bailard
    March 28, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    I’m thankful that you are taking the lead to put the documentation up.

    Sebastien Bailard is the hero here and worked with the creators of the derivative boards to document and get the publishing process into high gear.

    Ok, post updated! The PDFs are on the RepRap site and I’m looking forward to the files being uploaded. Thanks Sebastien!

    Bre, it is not necessary that you thank me. Nor do you need to laud me as a hero. I have not done anything heroic. I’m a RepRap forum administrator, and I help maintain the RepRap wiki.

    Kymberly Aandrus, of Tech Zone Communications (llc), if anyone, is the hero here.

    You chose to use your commercial blog to impugn and villify her personal and professional ethics. You chose to imply that her fellow RepRap user-developers lack personal and professional ethics.

    In the next breath, on your commercial blog, you describe your superior ethics, and you then proceed to proffer the links to the locations in where the true, original, non-derivative files can be found. And then you announce Makerbot has received the new shipment of Gen 3 Boards to sell.

    This is a very interesting way to frame and spin an argument and a novel way to fabricate a crisis on a commercial blog.

    You continue to maintain and assert’s dominant intellectual property rights and primary ownership of the Generation 3 RepRap / MakerBot Electronics. And you continue to position Makerbot’s interest in the boards as paramount and at the same time magnanimously offer to help check her files into, where you and will ethically host said files.

    Meanwhile, Ms. Aaundrus has chosen to share her files, in a timely manner, with her fellow RepRap user-developers in the RepRap wiki. And she is knowingly and happily fulfilling her responsibility to the GPL license and to all of us.

    I believe you owe her an apology for suggesting and implying she was not planning on sharing her files with the rest of us.

    Sebastien Bailard

  • jonnynogood
    March 28, 2010 at 9:49 pm


    i think this should be maintained by the makerbot crew and a few select people that you choose since it would probably be too much work.. everyday answers to questions, builds parts etc. should either go to the google group or the forum on your site. if it is found through that avenue that instructions or parts should be changed it should be updated on the wiki page. (why is there a google group and a makerbot forum? it adds to the confusion big time.

    the wiki page should be the most up to date and easy to go through information on the current makerbot, anything older should be harder to get at from that page..

    is there a timeline of makerbot changes anywhere? i have seen a future development page somewhere but not where cupcake is and where the cupcake has been kind of thing.

    i agree with you that you have the best instructions out there on how to build and get the parts together of any do it yourself or kit type machine that i have ever seen. i have just spent a lot of hours trying to figure out how to build one of these and throughout the process i have been lead off in a direction that has turned out to be a dead end because the designs and parts that were posted had been abandoned, modified and something better had come of it and it was not really clear that was the case. its been really frustrating and is exactly the problems that you brought up with this post.

    it as much a responsibility to maintain open source information as it is to post the revisions that are made. both lead to dead ends, wasted $, misordered parts and frustration for the end user if not done properly.

    have a great week and thanks for making this robot.

  • Bre Pettis
    March 29, 2010 at 3:01 am

    Sebastien Bailard – I have an apology penned and I’m just waiting for the files that you’ve said you’re having a hard time uploading to hit the wiki before sending it off. I think it’s fine to upload them to another hosting site and link to them from the wiki. Frankly, we created Thingiverse to make it super easy to share design files and create derivatives and encourage open source licenses for real things. There is a button on each thing that says “I made one” that then prompts you to upload a derivative file if you changed the original. I love wikis but they aren’t great for everything.

    You do a lot to maintain the RepRap wiki site and you basically jumped in there and took the first steps towards getting the files up by posting the pdfs. Weather you like being called a hero or not, you are a pillar of the community. I don’t know how to best explain to you that we’re both on the same team here, but we are!

    I saw in another forum post on the wiki that you’ll be at the Maker Faire, I’ll be there too and they always put us open source 3d printing folks in the same area so we can meet in person. Cool!

    jonnynogood – It sounds like you’ve got your build under control. There are really three small upgrades that happened to the MakerBot. The first was a switch to the z stage making it a u, the second happened with batch 5 when we switched to all 5mm ply for construction, and the most recent was the change at batch ten which we documented by forking the instructions.

    We’re learning here and we’re also improving the machine as we go. Thanks for your feedback, if we ever come out with a different bot, we’re going to have to think hard about making some changes to how we do documentation and I think your suggestions are good.

  • Erik
    March 29, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    I would be angry with a person that violates the license of something that I made. Especially since you shouldn’t need to point out the infringement before action is taken. Why do people question if you have the right to say that you suspect an infringement (because you can’t find source files)?

    I don’t understand most of the criticism towards Bre since he’s defending the ethics of open source development for all of us. He wasn’t rude nor wrong in doing so. Complying with a license isn’t something you can do even after you’ve started selling a derivative.

    Reading Bre’s post (after seeing and pointing out the violation myself) makes me think that his remarks are not just warranted but even more reserved than they needed to be. Remember that he’s doing it for all of us, it might even be that a Makerbot competitor of them might benefit from it more than they do. I don’t see why people think Bre’s posted for the wrong reasons.

    But that’s how I think of it, and I’m entitled to my opinion just as anyone in this thread is.

  • Links 29/3/2010: Sony’s Bait and Switch | Boycott Novell
    March 29, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    […] Open Source Ethics and Dead End Derivatives Open Source Hardware is hardware that has an open license. You can copy it, develop it, and even sell it yourself. You must provide attribution to the designer and you must also release the derivative source files under the same license. This applies even if you use a proprietary program for your designs. […]

  • ril3y
    March 30, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    I am glad it all worked out in the end. I find myself arguing GPL violations as of late too!

    :/ The big companies out there taking code that you and me write slap a price tag on it and then never release code. What do you do about this growing trend?


  • Sebastien Bailard
    March 30, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    What do you do about this growing trend?

    Speaking for RepRap, we don’t like to rock the boat – it’s our job to make the boat larger. Normally I’d start with my usual, polite chirping: “that sounds neat, want to upload it into the RepRap wiki?”, and then slowly and deliberately escalate to a polite forum post, a polite email, and then a polite letter.

    This is my style:
    coupled with helping people contribute and making space for them.

    I don’t think this approach will work for you.

    Normally, when people fork RepRap stuff (and they do), and chose not to contribute back to our community by participating in it (and they do), or when they choose not to contribute by using the same name for stuff and or the same documentation/file system (and they do), we find it’s the most fun to just out-innovate the buggers rather than using our blog for attack ads (as they do).

    I don’t think this approach will work for you.

    I warn you do be careful what you post on your blog, you don’t want to open yourself up a civil tort of libel or ‘conspiracy to restrict trade’ (I forget the language).

    Have you tried a polite letter or email to their lawyer?

  • Sebastien Bailard
    March 30, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Ah, I just skimmed that forum thread more carefully.

    I apologize for skimming rather than reading carefully, ril3y. It looks like you need to send a straightforward and icily polite email and letter to their legal department. Lawyers take this stuff more seriously than marketing flacks or “Customer Service Representives”.

    Also, expect them to respond on human times, not internet time. They may take 5 or 6 days to respond to your email or letter.

  • ril3y
    March 30, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    I warn you do be careful what you post on your blog, you don’t want to open yourself up a civil tort of libel or ‘conspiracy to restrict trade’ (I forget the language).

    Printed is liable. That is if its untrue what is written. However, I agree. A civil tone comes from years of dealings on the internets. But thanks for the advice.

  • Sebastien Bailard
    March 30, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    Printed is liable. That is if its untrue what is written. However, I agree. A civil tone comes from years of dealings on the internets. But thanks for the advice.

    Yes, that is true. At the same time, I was also taking the opportunity to throw hand grenades in Bre’s blog. This may pop out once you start reading between the lines of what was said. I can be extraordinarily passive-aggressive when I get angry. And for that I apologize.

    You and previous commenters are right about a civil tone being important on the internet. It’s also worth considering human nature:

    1: Shipping GPL hardware is a lot more work and involves more than shipping GPL software. Moreover, why and where should you document something you might not actually be able to sell? Especially after already spending time and money on development and fabrication!

    2: Some people move and act on internet time, and some people move and act on human time. Some people respond immediately to email, and some people respond in a very deliberate manner. For somu, a forum post is the same thing as a personal letter, for others, well, they are busy at the moment, and will get back to you.

    3: Some people prefer to pre-document, some people prefer to post-document.

    4: Invariably, we start arguing about “What do we call this?”, “Where do we put this?”. And when there’s money to be made, people become more suspicious of each other.

    And so on.

    So, along with a civil tone, we should assume good will until proven otherwise, and we should be _patient_ with each other. And we should not use commercial blogs to argue about commerce. I’ve been as guilty of this as anyone else.

  • Dead End Derivatives & Ethical U-Turns « commons re:source™
    April 14, 2010 at 11:10 am

    […] & Ethical U-Turns When I came across the MakerBot Industries blog post entitled Open Source Ethics and Dead End Derivatives last moth, I thought, at the time, that it would be an interesting topic to write about.  The […]

  • Bre Pettis
    April 20, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    In general I have a rule against feeding trolls and got a bit blindsided by the “grenade throwing” here. but I’d like to wrap this up.

    The files never hit the wiki. There are pdfs that are reverse engineerable to see the changes. Not the best for future development work and not the source files.

  • Sebastien Bailard
    April 23, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    The files have been up since April 8th: If you
    don’t have PCB Artist from Advanced Circuits, then you are welcome to
    use the pdfs Kymberly uploaded, or even help her rewrite them in an
    open source program. (She is thinking of doing so.)

    You mentioned earlier that “Sebastien didn’t like how this went down”
    and then say that I am trolling rather than countering your argument
    and narrative frame. When you chose to simultaneously blog and twitter
    rather than a simple forum post or email, than it feels to me as
    though you are choosing to engage in character assassination for
    marketing purposes. In that case I believe it is more appropriate to
    fight you with rhetoric rather than play along in this little show

    You’ve put quite a bit of work into coding thingiverse and many of my
    fellow user-developers are busy making it more valuable. I imagine
    you will be selling it to yahoo, google or microsoft for
    USD$10,000,000 a few years from now?

    Please do not use your blog to traduce my fellow user-developers. It
    is unethical and rude.

  • Re: POSSIBLE VIOLATION OF REPRAP GNU LICENSE (Edit: Resolved) | 3D Printer Parts
    June 13, 2010 at 7:28 am

    […] That doesn’t mean they’re very nice people or understand what a “conflict of interests” is: [] […]

  • David M.
    September 20, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    My my, how things change, Mr. Closed Source Replicator 2.

  • Mark
    September 21, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    I wonder if Bre still believes these ideals in an era of a closed source Replicator 2.


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