Recently a 3D Printer company has come under fire for what is being ruled a violation of GPL terms by those in the 3D printing community. First let me say I am not here to take sides and I do not represent Creality or even own one of their printers and I am not a lawyer. In this article I will attempt to present my unbiased view of this incident and allow you the reader to make any conclusions. I intend to leave this article open-ended and not present my conclusion as to guilt or incidence.
First let me run though the events as I saw them occurring. Creality is a maker of large format PRUSA DI3 Printers. These printer use the Marlin Operating system and are licensed under the GNU GPL V3.0. So what does that mean to someone that builds and uses 3D Printers? Simple, the Marlin Operating System is free for anyone to use or modify as long as they allow others the same ability. They must offer the source code for download. Creality, the makers of the CR-10s 3D printer, received requests from owners of their printers to provide copies of the source code used by them in their printers. Creality refused to provide the source code and even provided a letter and a video detailing their reasons for not providing the source code. Since their refusal some have started a boycott of Creality products and publicly debunked the company on YouTube.
Creality states in its memo and its video message that they had contracted with a third party for their customized version of Marlin for the CR-10s and as such they only have the hex files and an the version of the source code used in their other printers. Creality released source code for their other printers but not the CR-10s, stating a need to continue having it be closed. They still did not provide users with the source code as required by the GPL. Is Creality afraid for others to play with their code or are they afraid someone will clone their machine? Of course the latter seems ridicules at this point as there are already many clones of the CR series of 3D Printers on the market.
Can They Be Held Accountable?
Yes, a Federal Judge in the California district court, Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley ruled that the GNU General Public License even though it is not signed is an enforceable legal contract. Since this occurred companies have been held liable for violations of the GNU GPL and fined. There have even been similar cases to Creality that have lost in the California courts. According to the GNU GPL Creality absolutely cannot refuse a request for their source code. One such company provided modified open source model railroad software to the company that originally wrote the software and sued for royalties, claiming to have not signed any open source agreement. Judge Scott ruled against the Korean company saying the signature was implied. The Korean company then sued, claiming to be owed royalties for their customizing of the open source software. It seems that if what they say is true, about a third party handling their software, they might have to drop the third party and go back to their original Marlin version, which might give the third party the means to sue Creality for breach of contract. Which makes it seem as though, Creality has backed themselves into a corner.
Where from here?
No charges have been filed, only an incident report to the GNU GPL has gone forward. I’m not sure what good a boycott will prove? New users buying these products are not schooled in the GNU GPL language. My opinion is that this should go in front of a judge. Only then will we see true legal action if it is warranted. I believe there are some on YouTube that should actually read the terms of the GNU GPL v3.0 license. Before passing not guilty assessments on their YouTube channels. Let the courts decide the fate of Creality. While we the 3D Community do what we do best and print little tug boats.
Supplemental GPL Announcement
As of moments after writing this article, Creality announced and released the source code for the CR-10s. Some are pointing to the boycott as the reason for the sudden turnaround. Others are saying that company leadership simply misunderstood the terms of the GPL. Once the GPL was explained to management in their native tongue they relented and provided the required source code. I’m still publishing the above article because the issue remains, there are still companies that violate the GPL daily. Creality was only brought to light because of their resent success in the 3D Printer marketplace. Hopefully other companies will follow Creality and also provide their source code, this time without being asked or pushed.