[LINK] Open Source PC Design

Craig Sanders cas at taz.net.au
Mon Jun 2 07:48:17 AEST 2008

On Sun, Jun 01, 2008 at 04:21:10PM +1000, Richard Chirgwin wrote:
> Craig, what I'm saying is that for houses, the maths, the specifications 
> (eg "how much load will a 100mm x 100mm hardwood beam support if it's 
> supported by bearers at 450 mm spacing?) - the source code, if you will 
> - are public documents. The engineering of buildings (especially for 
> larger projects) is "open source" to that extent. Eg: [....]

yes, of course.  that's all part of it.  you're saying that as if i'm in
some way disputing that these things are open source.  i'm not.

the trouble is that a lot of this stuff is also being claimed as
proprietrary "intellectual property" (which is a bogus propaganda term
in itself - there is no such thing as "intellectual property"), is being
locked up with patents and copyrights and trademarks.

house floor-plans, are a case in point.  One company in Australia
(Barrett Property Group Pty Ltd, trading as Porter Davis Homes), for
example, has recently been granted a copyright monopoly on the *idea* of
arranging rooms in a house around a covered outdoor "alfresco" are. they
are now the only company in australia legally allowed to design homes
using that idea. and they have won at least two court cases defending
their "property".

there are at least two things that are obviously wrong with this:

1. that arrangement is just a minor variation of a style of housing
that's been in common use for thousands of years.  there is no way that
it can or should be one company's private property.

2. copyright is not for ideas, it's for specific expressions of an
idea.    even patents aren't so broad - they're not for ideas either.

the copyright that has been granted in this case is the housing
industry equivalent of giving one book publisher the copyright on the
idea of putting black symbols on white paper in order to facilitate

on the plus side: in another industry, sanity has prevailed and Cadbury
doesn't own the colour purple.  but the fact that they tried to own it
(and they haven't given up yet) is a telling point.

open source is essential in this area (and in *every* other field) as a
defense against the THEFT of these ideas from the commons.

now do you see where the motivation behind encouraging and developing
an open source movement for the design of physical objects is coming
from?  it's because if we don't then in the not too distant future it
will be impossible to build or write or do *anything* without the
permission of (and royalties paid to) some corporation that "owns"
the monopoly on whatever it is that you want to do.

it's because people are waking up to the fact that this kind of theft
from the commons has been quietly going on for years now and we're 
starting to get really worried about the consequences.

> I'm not asking "in what ways is housing like software design". I'm 
> asking (for I suppose about the third time):
> - in what way would "open source" as borrowed from software change housing?
> - in what way would "open source" as borrowed from software *benefit* 
> housing?

designs that can freely use and re-use (and build on and modify and
improve) parts of other designs with selection guided by utility and
fitness for purpose rather than limited by who "owns" what idea.

there are many great ideas that can't be implemented because they are
"owned" by some company.  in some cases, they're not even implementing
those ideas themselves, they just own them in order to prevent anyone
else from implementing them.  or to cash in with infringement claims
if someone ever does implement them.

> Moreover, most of what is sold in housing is not a proprietary black 
> box, but a set of services in which specialised experts put the open 
> information to use.

actually, most of it IS sold as a proprietary black box and it's
becoming even more so all the time. project home companies in particular
are not satisified with having the copyright on one particular specific
design, they are trying to lock up even the ideas expressed in those
designs as their own private property.


craig sanders <cas at taz.net.au>

BOFH excuse #245:

The Borg tried to assimilate your system. Resistance is futile.

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