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In the case of code, the license is clear. Any code snippet that you post on SE, or copy from SE has to be licensed under the same terms, has to attribute the original post, and can be used for personal or commercial purposes.

In the case of hardware projects, primarily electronics, how does this work?


Say, I post a detailed question/answer containing sufficient detail such that any knowledgeable individual in the field would be able to create the device based on the given information. Also, say the project is something novel. Now, as the content posted on SE describes the project, how does the license work with regards to the actual hardware implementation?

Can I license the project and more specifically, the design/documentation, under a different license or does the CC-SA license apply to any design/documents that I have, whose content overlaps with my post (as the post was essentially based on it or vice-versa)?

Does the timeline of the document(s) come into the picture?

Can somebody else, pick up the idea from my post and sell it? Would the CC-SA license apply to their design and hardware implementation (as the design was picked up from the SE post)?

In general, how does posting the design of a hardware product external to SE, get affected by the license? How do I interpret the content license with respect to such projects?

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1 Answer 1

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The Creative Commons share alike 2.5 license used on SE is a copyright license and items covered by it are by definition copyrightable (section 1.e). Hardware implementations are not intellectual property (being physical property) and are not eligible for copyright under US law (source). CC by SA can't apply to them, because they don't qualify as works under the terms of the license.

You also mention the "idea" from a post and relevance of timelines. Ideas, systems, devices, and processes aren't copyright eligible. These items, along with their fabrication and use, fall under patent law. Timing of events is important in patent law, as showing use prior to patent grant or application can be a defense against an infringement claim.

The actual designs (circuit diagrams, CAD files, etc) and documentation are copyright eligible and thus would be under the CC by SA license when posted. Treat them the same as any other IP published under the license: they may be reproduced, adapted, or sold as long as attribution is given, changes are indicated, the license isn't changed, and no additional restrictions are imposed.

Note, though, that the designs and documentation themselves are what's covered by copyright. That is, the actual pictures and words comprising the post, but not the underlying ideas. If I create a post describing and diagramming a 5gHz processor, I have a copyright on those diagrams and descriptions, not on the processor itself or its design.

Can somebody else, pick up the idea from my post and sell it?

Yes, even if by "idea" you meant something copyright eligible. The CC by SA license allows for resale of works. If you want to protect your rights regarding novel hardware, you should acquire a patent and/or publish the designs elsewhere under a hardware oriented license and reference it in an SE post.

Further reading: http://www.oshwa.org/faq/

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-source_hardware

CC recommends against using its licenses for software and hardware, saying they are inappropriate.

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