1

Somewhere in 2018, it was a big deal when Chinese company Creality made their Ender 3 printer 'truly open source', as acknowledged by the Open Source HardWare Association. See for example this YouTube video by Naomi Wu.

When the Ender 3 V2 came out, the upgraded version of the Ender 3, I'd thought the Ender 3 repository would be updated with the new files. However, this never happened.

Considering the speech by Naomi starting at 1:10, I'm quite surprised by this. But after reading their GPL license, I can't see them doing anything wrong either.

There is the following requirement from OSHWA:

Ensure that all of the creator’s own contributions to an open source product using the certification mark are shared as open source in accordance with the agreement and these requirements.

However, I'm not sure how a new version works with respect to keeping the original license intact or whether this is a derived work. This could all be a matter of misunderstanding based on the definition of the work and the license.

  • Am I correct that the files of the Ender 3 V2 were never released?
  • Were either the GPL-3 or the OSHWA requirements violated by releasing the V2 without releasing their files?

Or, perhaps more to the point, does the license of the original work still hold on the V2?

2

As far as I can tell, V2 is a completely different product. It does not appear to ever have been Creality's intent that the OSHWA certification for the original Ender 3 apply to the Ender 3 V2. Ender 3 is OSHWA certified; Ender 3 V2 is not

As long as V2 only makes use of copyrighted material authored by Creality, or available under a permissive license, there is no problem not releasing the source code associated with V2: permissively licensed code may be distributed in binary form only, and Creality may choose any license terms whatsoever for any work they authored themselves.

Based on this GitHub issue it appears that Ender 3 V2 may include a physical circuit whose design is released under the GPL. However, physical circuits are not copyrightable insofar as they are "useful articles" under copyright law: copyright cannot limit the reproduction of the functional components of a system. The written/visual work to express a circuit design may be copyrighted and licensed under the GPL, but the underlying function and useful structure of that circuit is not copyrightable, so it does not extend to an actual fabricated chip built from that design.

Possibly the chip design could be protected as a semiconductor mask, which affords ten years of exclusive rights in the United States. If such a law applies, then during the term of protection, the GPL would apply to the use of the mask output chip in whatever capacity the mask-rights monopolize implementation of the mask on a chip. There are any number of possibilities: possibly the owner of the GPL'd circuit design never applied to the government for such a monopoly, possibly the semiconductor-mask law is not relevant to that design, possibly Creality's legal team mistakenly only considered jurisdictions without such laws, possibly the author of the design does not live in a jurisdiction with such a law, or possibly the protection on that circuit design is older than ten years and has expired.

See also Using the (L)GPL as an open-source hardware license?

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