Robot Law

Robot Law

Edited by Ryan Calo, A. Michael Froomkin and Ian Kerr

Robot Law brings together exemplary research on robotics law and policy – an area of scholarly inquiry responding to transformative technology. Expert scholars from law, engineering, computer science and philosophy provide original contributions on topics such as liability, warfare, domestic law enforcement, personhood, and other cutting-edge issues in robotics and artificial intelligence. Together the chapters form a field-defining look at an area of law that will only grow in importance.

Chapter 7: The application of a “sufficiently and selectively open license” to limit liability and ethical concerns associated with open robotics

Diana Marina Cooper

Subjects: innovation and technology, technology and ict, law - academic, internet and technology law, law and society, legal philosophy, legal theory, public international law, terrorism and security law, politics and public policy, public policy, terrorism and security


Open robots may be more problematic than their closed counterparts from a legal and ethical perspective. The lack of ability to constrain use of the technology in certain downstream applications makes it difficult for open robot manufacturers to minimize unethical use of their technologies. Some form of intervention is required if the industry is to adopt a “sufficiently open” model and fulfill the goal of achieving “a robot in every home.” This chapter makes the case for adopting a licensing approach that deviates from traditional open licences by imposing certain restrictions on downstream modification and use, in order to allocate liability between manufacturers and users. The author explores the obstacles to mainstream adoption of a “sufficiently open” model, including the concerns about physical harm, social harm, and privacy implications. Proposed measures to overcome these barriers have included providing selective immunity to manufacturers and distributors of open robots. The author suggests that Ryan Calo’s proposal, to grant selective immunity to open robot manufacturers, be supplemented with a licensing approach to regulation. Readers are presented with the Ethical Robot License (ERL), a preliminary license draft that acts as a starting point in the discussion of ethical licensing of open robots. The proper scope of the licence, operationalization of the license, and analogous contexts demonstrating where ethics have been infused into commercial transactions, are outlined and discussed. This approach aims to reduce the scope and scale of harmful and unethical use of open robots through the establishment of obligations and restrictions on downstream applications and operating environments. The license allocates liability, requires insurance, and allows for increased remedies.

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