Choosing a Free License for Your 3D Project

How do you share your creative work with the world? You are probably familiar with copyright restrictions and how they limit what you can do with creative work. Free Licenses act as a freeing shell over a copyrighted work allowing you and others to share your work in a way that not only respects the freedom of others, but also gives you recourse if someone misuses your freely licensed work! If someone violates the terms of the license, the underlying copyright comes back into play. Free Licenses liberate work that was born closed. 

There are several different kinds of Free Software licenses used by the Free Software and Open Source Hardware community. Which license should you choose? We use and recommend the GNU General Public License v3 (GPLv3) and the CC BY-SA International 4.0 license. These recommendations are only a guide. Consult a lawyer for your use-case.

From LulzBot.com/Community:

We publish our hardware designs and software packages under the GNU General Public License (GPLv3) and/or the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0. In non-legalese, this means that you are free to use, reproduce, sell or modify our designs in any way you see fit, as long as you retain this same license for your projects using our work. For those wanting to use our hardware designs and/or software packages, we require you:

  • Label the product as a clone. It must be clear that it is not a product from our factory.
  • Note that 'LulzBot is a registered trademark of Aleph Objects, Inc.'
  • Host your own copy of the source files on your own server or similar, even if they are unmodified. Do not just point to our existing source.

GNU General Public License v3 (GPLv3)

The GNU General Public License was created by Richard Stallman in 1991. This license allows users to use, change, copy, sell, and give away the product provided they follow two key terms of the license:

  • A copy of the source must be included, or written instructions on how to get a copy of the source must be included.
  • The license cannot be changed or removed. Once the GPL has been used on a work, it, any copies or derivates must always use the GPL.

Creative Commons

What do these abbreviations mean?

CC; Creative Commons: An international organization which is dedicated to helping companies and individuals share knowledge and creativity to build a more innovative world.

BY; Attribution: Anyone using your work must give you credit as the original creator. Additionally, they must also provide a link to the license and indicate if changes were made.

SA; Share Alike: Anyone that uses your work as a basis of new work must use the same license.

Each license option has a small graphic available to display and link to the license terms from Creative Commons:

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

What about using NC, or Non-Commercial licenses?

The Creative Commons NC clause violates the four essential freedoms definition of Free Software and restricts User Freedoms:

  • The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

If anyone is prevented from using, refining, or even sharing your work, it's not really free.

Share the Source

Share the original source material! By sharing the source files used in the design you also share the history and creative process of the 3D model. 

Design your 3D models with Free Software. When you use Free Software you help ensure that others are free to share and expand on the work. We recommend and use Blender, FreeCAD, and OpenSCAD.

Finally, share your creations with the rest of the world! We recommend starting with the LulzBot User Forum.

Recommended Videos


'Free software, free society: Richard Stallman at TEDxGeneva 2014' video licensed CC-BY-ND © TEDx, 2014.

'Open source hardware sparks innovation: Nathan Seidle at Summit 2016' video licensed CC-BY-SA © Red Hat, Inc. 2016.

More Information

Have questions? Ready to explore this further?

Visit FSF.org to watch their video on User Liberation.

CreativeCommons.org, Freely License your work

CreativeCommons.org, Marking your work with a CC license

LulzBot.com, Cloning LulzBot products

GNU.org, Free Software Definition

GNU.org, Why Software Should Not Have Owners

FredomDefined.com, The case for Free use: reasons not to use a Creative Commons -NC license

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