Makerbot, Occupy Thingiverse, And The Reality Of Selling Open Hardware

Yesterday, Makerbot Industries introduced the Replicator 2, a very good-looking 3D printer that will is probably the closest thing we’ll see to a proper ‘consumer’ 3D printer for a year or so. There’s only one problem. The new Replicator 2 is rumored to be closed source. If that’s not enough, [Bre Pettis], co-founder and CEO of Makerbot Industries will be speaking at the Open Source Hardware Association conference next week with the suitably titled talk, “Challenges of Open Source Consumer Products.”

Of course, the Replicator 2 being closed source is hearesay, and we can’t blame them for closing up parts their product; they have investors to worry about and people are blatantly copying their work. There was another change in Makerbot’s operation at the press conference yesterday: Makerbot now owns everything you’ve put up on Thingiverse.

This news comes from [Josef Prusa], creator of what is probably the most widely used 3D printer in the world.

[Prusa] begins his rant with the history of the RepRap. The project began with a team of core developers headed by [Adrian Bowyer], and supported by [Zach Smith], [Adam Mayer], and [Bre Pettis]. [Boyer] gave the guys a bit of money to start Makerbot, and it’s something the guys at Makerbot have never been ashamed of. Makerbot went on to create Thingiverse, became the darlings of the Open Hardware movement, and acquired $10 million from investors.

All things change, of course, and Makerbot is no exception. Along with the (again, rumored) closed-source Replicator 2, [Prusa] pointed out the Terms of Use for Thingiverse say that Thingiverse – and thus Makerbot Industries – owns everything submitted by Thingiverse users. [Prusa] started an Occupy Thingiverse movement in response to this discovery.

Honestly, we hope [Josef Prusa] is wrong on this one. We hope the specific clauses in Thingiverse’s Terms of Use granting itself a license to do whatever it wants with uploaded Things is just a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo added in by lawyers to protect Thingiverse from being sued by crazy people. Still, if rumors are true, it may be a portent of things to come.

In any event, [Prusa] will be taking his Thingiverse things down. He plans on posting his stuff on GitHub, probably the most Open Source-friendly community in existence. You can do the same with this GitHub template for 3D printed objects.

So, learned reader of Hackaday, what do you make of this? Is Makerbot right to close up their projects? Are we finally becoming disillusioned with Open Hardware? What say you?

150 thoughts on “Makerbot, Occupy Thingiverse, And The Reality Of Selling Open Hardware

  1. I understand this comment is gruff, and will be read by some if not many, as a personal attack against Josef Prusa, but I submit this anyway to point out in what in my opinion could kill open source hardware more than anything else.


    …“We’re working that out and we are going to be as open as we possibly can while building a sustainable business. We are going to continue to respect licenses and continue to contribute to the open technology of 3D printing, some of which we initiated. We don’t want to abuse the goodwill and support of our community. We love what we do, we love sharing, and we love what our community creates. I believe strongly that businesses that share will be the winners of tomorrow and I don’t think that’s a secret. Even companies like Google and IBM are embracing open source and finding new ways to share these days. ”…

    So that reads it may be some time until we know what Makerbot will do. In my opinion anyone not willing to wait until that time to judge Makerbot is out just to a bitch, not have constructive discussion on the topic. In recognizing, and respecting his contribution Mr. Prusa would be the only exception I’d make, if he can, and will offer what conditions that RepRap made when releasing the details of their product that Makerbot violated. There as many opinions as to what open hardware or unwritten rules about open hardware as there are those stating their opinion or declaring a set of rules. That in my opinion open source any thing faster than anything can. Not to say those opinions, and rule can’t be useful in deciding what sort of open hardware license on can be comfortable using. A mistake would be the open source community dismissing licensing, even if they are as good as the ability of those issuing them to defend it The originators of the Arduino manufacturing their product themselves, while allowing others to manufacture, sell clones goes to show that open hardware can work,hopefully the powers that be at Makerbot take that into consideration while making a decision. We need to be mindful about comparing apples to oranges though. While I don’t know the business model behind Arduino, but most likely the investors behind Makerbot expect a return on their investment equal to or better than the same investment on Wall Street would net them, just the nature of the beast. The commercial manufacture, and retail of open source projects could mean that they will be made available to more people, and become less expensive for hackers, a win-win in my opinion.

    1. Simply put, the product isn’t open source by default. If they’re still “working that out” it means NO. Until they affirmatively state that it’s open source, that doesn’t change.

      We don’t need to give them time because this isn’t a discussion we should even be having. It’s either open source or it isn’t and, by extension, they are either part of the open hardware community or they aren’t. The fact that they want to have a “discussion” about it strongly suggests that they’re trying to close source it and give themselves more time to justify their actions to everyone.

      There is only one correct answer that we should care about in any way: “Yes, we’ve decided to make it open source”. Any other “discussion” is a waste of time.

      1. True! That is the key point. Many go on about understanding MakerBot, they’re a company, and so on. But that misses the point. This is not about any single company. It is bigger than that. This about Open Hardware, the ethic it stands for and the form of society and technology we want in the future. I want a future wide open!

  2. The idea that they can own, a post on a site that is posted with the idea of being shared, is not acceptable.

    It is another error of copyright and various claims when posting on some web site. Seen the same pattern before, it will not hold, by its intents.

    The fact that it is of social value, makes things like youtube, various search engines, and some other techs, like databases where people can contribute thingiverse, to require governmental regulation and oversight, up to and including nationalization to preserve the intent of the web sites from the societal perspective, not the perspective of some person that has some site where people post, or upload some intellectual property.

    If you want to contribute to society, it should not be required that a private company gets a cut of that contribution, and from that public sector information systems, or oversight of those systems is a rational response to the errors of private sector attempts at information control.

    Side note, the Internet was funded in part by tax money, therefore the concept of the area not being regulated to protect from private sector information control is easy to show.

    The Internet, and all information repositories should be under civilian review, or even control, for the good of society, not for control by a few in society that are not elected, and only responsible to money.

  3. Its ok to make a profit, but only if that profit is also in part owned by the developer, the developer did not give it to thingiverse.

    The intent is to give it to anyone in society.

    So either it should be free, or the developer should get a percentage of the profit.

    A charge for service for holding such data, without claim of ownership could be argued, but it would have to be proportionally to maintaining a server database of some information.

    Google does not claim the information it points to. And no site should require ownership to have something posted.

    If so a public sector replacement should be created.

  4. I think this whole discussion comes down to a difference between values. Open means that you prioritize open over everything else. Business means that you prioritize profit over everything else. As I illustrated here with quotes from Makerbot itself their priorities simply changes.

    You try getting $10M and see if yours don’t change. Investors expect not only their money back, but a significant profit along with it…and they expect it in a few years. The only way for Makerbot to get that kind of money is to move into a bigger market. The hobby/hacker community just isn’t big enough.

    I don’t see a way that the community loses; none at all. The single best thing we can do for 3D printing specifically, and open source in general, is to expand the market for it. Even if we lose Makerbot, we’ll gain 10 new people/teams. It was only a year ago that Makerbot had to explain to people what a 3D printer was. Now they have to convince those people that a 3D printer can be a practical tool. If they succeed, everyone benefits.

    1. > You try getting $10M and see if yours don’t change. Investors expect not only their money back, but a significant profit along with it…

      Makerbot was dishonest with someone and now they are reaping what they have sown. They were dishonest with the world if they were only interested enough in being open until they got paid or they were dishonest with the people who invested in them and did not explain their open hardware nature.

      Now that dishonesty is coming to a head against one or the other and they have to make the hard decision. It seems to me they genuinely cared about being open but they made a bad business deal and now they have to handle the consequences.

      1. Makerbot isn’t being dishonest and I wish people would stop pretending like they have precise knowledge of what Makerbot is doing.

        Makerbot hasn’t directly stated they’re closed source, or even if they would close source everything or just a few things. What I read out of it is that they’re considering options.

        Seeing as how recent tangibot was, I have a feeling like Makerbot was full steam ahead with open source right up until a few months about when the whole tangibot things went down. Now they’re cautious and taking a step back and that’s totally reasonable.

        People just need to chill out. Seriously.

      2. The Tangibot was *never* a threat to Makerbot. Everyone came down on the whole Tangibot Kickstarter like a ton of bricks. There have been other cloning the Makerbot for nearly a year now. Tangibot is an easy scapegoat that got it’s comeuppance and is dead and gone.

        However, what *did* change awhile back is that Makerbot got a ton of money and are now answering to investors. That, combined with the rambly, corporate double speak notice they posted that didn’t say a whole lot except, “Hang on guys, we just need to convince you everything is cool at the next conference.” speaks volumes about what’s going on.

        I strongly dislike it when apologists like you come out of the woodwork to defend these about faces by companies that have gone through exactly the same thing Makerbot is. It always turns out that they shrug and say they are beholden to their investors. Another thing that is always true is that the community turns on them like lightning and they never see the success they were striving for originally.

        This is Makerbot’s peak. Now let’s watch them fall.

      3. If it was all about VC funding then why was the replicator 1 open source?

        If it’s so cut and dry and clearly the work of investors making Makerbot closed sourced, then why wasn’t Rep1 closed source and why is Makerbot not directly stating that they are now closed sourced?

        The answer, it’s because this has little to nothing to do with VC funding and everything to do with making sure they can remain a viable business. I’d like a little more thoughtful discussion and a little less fanboy ranting.

      4. Yeah…they screwed up and got saddled with $10M. That makes sense. Or, maybe they didn’t think too much about it back when they didn’t have anything to lose. But now that they have succeeded, they’d rather not fail. Can you honestly hold that against them?

      5. So then you agree with people who say that open source hardware was just a means to an end for Makerbot. That end is making money via closed hardware. That’s cool, at least your honest about it.

    1. You do know that not everything on the RP is open source right?

      So RP want’s to bring computing to everyone and along the way uses some closed source hardware = They’re an awesome company

      Makerbot wants to being 3d printing to everyone and might be closes source along the way = evil corporation.

  5. Everyone is aware that open source vs. closed source on hardware vs. software isn’t even remotely the same, yes? Hardware gets protected by utility patents, and software is covered under copyright law and software patents. Lookalike/clone issues have everything to do with how it looks and not how it functions, which means they need to apply for a design patent.

    Makerbot might decide to not release their source files, but all anyone has to do is get one of their machines, take it apart, measure everything, compile a BOM and CAD files of everything in it, and the world can go on merrily hacking and MBI can’t do anything about it. Unless some part of it is covered by an enforceable patent (which opens the source to everyone anyways), anyone can duplicate and sell Replicator 2 clones all they like. Even if a part is allegedly under patent, all anyone needs to do is find some prior art and the patent is invalidated, or simply replace that part with something else that isn’t covered by a patent. I’d be interested in seeing what an IP attorney has to say about GPL, MIT, and other open-source licenses for hardware, but I’m not convinced they’re enforceable, or have been tested in court.

    Regardless, I was never overly impressed with the Makerbot machines. If you don’t like MakerBot, don’t buy their products, and they’ll either find an audience that does want their products, and is willing to pay for them, or they’ll go out of business. If you do like their products, and don’t mind them not releasing the source files (which I never found they were too eager to share anyways), buy away! Maybe they’ll stay in business.

      1. First-to-file only applies if two entities had been working on the same project at the same time, kept their projects secret (which is necessary to prevent your product from becoming public domain), and one filed before the other. You can’t get a patent on chopsticks simply because you’re the first to file, because chopsticks are already public domain and as a result are un-patentable. If Dr. Bower had, in fact, described the automated build process Makerbot patented, then the Makerbot patent is invalidated and the process becomes public domain, with nobody owning, controlling, or restricting its use.

      2. You still have to have the resources to argue that in court against the standing patent holder. It’s not something that’s going to be taken up pro bono by lawyers either because the winning outcome is public domain.

  6. Another Bre post with excuses.

    If you don’t release editable CAD source files (no, don’t need to be KiCAD, but pdf or stl are not source files) as the Open Hardware definition reads, then don’t complain that people does (failed) “carbon copy clones” of your designs. It happens because you for commercial reasons delberately made it hard to modify and enhance them.

    “Open source hardware is hardware whose design is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design or hardware based on that design. The hardware’s source, the design from which it is made, is available in the preferred format for making modifications to it.”

    Sure, your OSHW branding though may work with your new customer targets which are not anymore the makers nor the open source community itself.

  7. Ironically, the RepRap may not be Open Source Hardware either — I blogged about it here:

    tl;dr — OSHW statement says that legitimate open source hardware can’t discriminate against who uses it or how it’s used. RepRap core dev team has stated that they “… will work actively to inhibit and to subvert the use of RepRap for weapons production, whether by individuals, companies, or governments.”

    1. “…the TOS of some other sites that host user-content (Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo, FaceBook, etc.) and see places where we could improve the clarity and content of our own. But overall, the Thingiverse TOS is consistent with industry practices.”

      Hmmm. Oh, yeah. We know, everybody does it.

      “One provision of the MakerBot TOS that has caused confusion is the waiver of “Moral Rights or attribution.”
      The reason MakerBot requires a waiver of these rights is to lend certainty to the license that MakerBot relies upon to operate Thingiverse. Because Moral Rights operate outside the context of US Copyright law, they can cause contradictory results.
      This means that unless you are a citizen of one of the countries that recognize Moral Rights, this provision doesn’t affect you.”

      Ok, may or may not affext some people. But he conveniently misses about the attribution part though that afects everybody.

  8. I think they are going to put a button on the page where you view items to have it printed and shipped to you. I also think they are going to give you a cut of the money, how much remains to be seen.

  9. The problem with the open source is that is has no sustainable economic model underneath it. The Open Value Network model is a serious attempt to solve that problem, to close the loop with the market. is a pilot project implementing this model. The corner stone is the “value accounting system”, which allows participants to an open project to log their contributions, in order to know how to redistribute revenue. See more on the model

    1. The problem with the open source? With hardware someone can manufacture a physical product and sell that. Plenty of people are willing to pay for the convenience of not having to make something themselves. Selling products at a profit is a pretty sound economic model if I ever heard of one. Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure Makerbot was making money when they were an Open Source Hardware company.

  10. Try – they don’t own the models and designers can share them for free or sell them on the site for a small commission. It is an open market place. Ownership stays with the creator. if we ever offer any type of DRM it will be optional. The designer will decide.

  11. The “comes from [Josef Prusa]” link in the article is dead, but the wayback machine has an archive of it here: in case any future historians like me are interested in it.

    Similarly, the best archived copy I could find of the “Occupy Thingiverse movement” link is here:

    the “Challenges of open source consumer products” link is archived at

    and the “Github template” for 3D printed objects is archived here:

    The other links in the article still work as of January 2022. I hope this comment isn’t automatically blocked due to having a lot of links, I spent a while working on it.

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