Ethics of adapting others work into new schematics/stripboard/PCB

So I’ve been wondering lately about the ethics of adapting others’ work.

In software I primarily use open source software and share everything I can that I make/create so that others can adapt it, but I know that’s not how the whole world works.

As an artist, there is a line for me in my work between the technical know-how and tooling that makes it work (I built mechatronic artwork) and the actual content of what makes it my work.

I’m just trying to understand how this works in the synth world, and what is generally seen as ethical and unethical.

For example:
Right now I’ve been adapting some others’ stripboards and schematics and mashing them and modding them slightly into new ideas to make which I’d like to also share to others. Is this ok? What is not ok?

Of course even just browsing people’s websites I can see a wildly different view out there, but of course a reason why I’m connecting with this community as I dip further into the land of synth is that it is quite open and sharing compared to many others I’ve read about.

I really love LMNC’s AD/AR stripboard and have used one in my synth for a while, but would like to make a dual version running on a TL074 to fit in a single module. Is it ethical for me to do this adaption and share the outcomes (schematics, stripboard layouts etc)?

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Of course if you ask the original creator for permission to do it and they grant it, it’s likely to be ethical.

If you don’t ask for permission, well, then it depends — to what extent are you using their idea? For what purpose? Are you selling it, giving it away, using it only for yourself? Are you copying a whole design or using a basic idea or a small facet? All kinds of grey area.

And really, very few circuits don’t reuse something someone else came up with.

Some creators are very proprietary and some don’t give a damn. I put my projects on Github with explicit licensing, usually CC0 licensing which boils down to “anyone has permission to do whatever they want with this”. Because I think it’s unlikely anyone would ever make money off my designs, but if they did, it’d be because they put the work into producing and marketing it that I have no interest in doing, so they’re welcome to.

Note that legally (as I understand: IANAL), a circuit can’t be copyrighted — a circuit diagram can, but not the circuit itself. So if someone says “here’s a circuit I created and you can use it for personal use only but you can’t sell it” then legally you can ignore that and copy it and sell it — unless it’s a novel enough design that they have patented it. But that’s legality, not ethicality.


I think AO covered most of it here. Just to give another example; I release my modules with a MFOS-type statement. That is, I release the schematics and the board layout, but not the source files for them. You’re free to do what you want with them for personal use, but I ask politely not to mass-reproduce them, as I have my own boards available for purchase. Unless, of course, you adapt it significantly enough that it becomes a separate module. We all take bits and pieces from other designs, and that’s perfectly fine. That being said, this is all just a polite request, and there’s no legal ground for me to stand on, as AO already pointed out.


It’s fine, don’t worry about it.


@jessecakeindustries I also have more experience of this field in software than hardware, and also have released all my code as opensource, and the feel the ethics are the same in both fields.

I am not going to discuss any legal obligations, and just because I think something is ethically ok may not make it legal, or ethically ok in someone else’s.

If I pay for a book or course that teaches the theory of a subject, I would feel any knowledge gained should be able to be used in future projects. I would not feel the need to ask.

If I pay for a cookbook, “more 555 circuits”, I would also expect to be able to use any designs.

IF I pay for a document analyzing someone else’s product, “A look inside a TurboMatic” , I am aware the original material is not being offered for use and would seek out the copyright holder.

Using the content of a datasheet in a project, such as an example circuit, I feel this is free to use, and if wrapped with a few opamps, a couple of pots, and some jack sockets, often becomes a complete design.

Everything else, I ask, and from my experience, most authors that publish designs, want them used. If the author is not monetizing their design I have always had positive responses. If the intention is for use in an open-source project, stating this helps.


I use the CC-BY-SA-4.0 license for all my designs, and share all the source files.
This basically says that I don’t care if you sell them as long as you credit me and if you use part of it then please share it under the same license so that others can learn.
I have learned a lot from looking at other people’s designs so I think I should help give back to folks that were in the same position I was (still am…) in.


This specifically — it’s easy enough to ask @lookmumnocomputer. But his whole thing is sharing and adapting stuff like this. He’d be fine with it. It’s not all that novel a circuit anyway, here’s the same basic idea in a 2014 blog post but I’m sure it goes back way further.


yeah like @analogoutput mentioned that fine. in the end of the day with modular synths a lot of the time its ideas on top of ideas, the approach to that circuit is similar to a lot of other designs basically stemming from an integrator and a comparator circuit near enough.


It is inevitable to get inspired by (hardware/software) designs other people make or published somewhere. Sometimes it is not clear who the true designer is, but if it is I try to refence them whenever I base a design on (part of) such a circuit and publish something about my build.

The last 2 designs I made are based on review videos of some module I saw on youtube. I designed the circuit I thought one would need to implement the functions shown and then build it. I have no clue whether the method used in the original circuit is in any way similar to mine, but I do have my suspicions. The 1st I published here was the Sequential-Switch-O-Matic, which is not unlike circuits you find in the application notes of the ICs I used. The next will follow soon. I have no idea whether this could be seen as violating copyright.


Oh yes of course - I see lots of referencing around the place, and I’m keen to follow that tradition as I adapt things to my liking. I like also that it creates a loose heritage to follow back on, as websites and resources disappear regularly from the net, at least you can see the names of what someone was basing their design on (I’m thinking about CGS).

This is all great to learn - really I always find such huge differences between each scene I dip my toes into I like to ask straight up what the culture is rather than offending.

My plan is to share the schematics and redesigns on Github fully open like I would my code. This way it’s in a place that may outlive me (for example the recent inclusion (2 years ago I think?) of all of Github open source stuff into the arctic vault. It’s pretty cool to think that it will last for about 10,000 years if all goes well, and can be read by the human eye as well as a computer.

I aim to try and waken up some of Australia’s local scene for kit/diy circuit board stuff. I remember the early days of Arduino around 2005/2006 it was so exciting here - so many people offering their own little shields and clones locally, and all in through hole form so you could make adjustments as needed or repair easily on the fly (there was a motor driver shield I used around that time that was meant for 12V but I wanted to drive 24V so I switched some resistors to make that possible).

I want to offer kit/PCBs of various things that I use a lot in my arts practice for people to assemble/modify as they see fit. There is a pretty chunky hurdle here in cheap and fast PCB manufacturing which I think has slowed this whole scene down here. You can have one, not the other though which tends to push this kind of work away. It also means that if we buy something from OS it’s expensive (because of exchange rates with our weak dollar) and enormously slow (I had a PCB for my Amiga 500 take literally months to get here from Germany last year).

These will be cheap, and made to mainly cover their cost, but to also try and help what I see as a waning scene here, turning most people in just consumers of buying fully finished products without getting their hands dirty. So that’s why I ask.

Mostly I’ll focus on stuff I endlessly make by hand to drive my sculptures (lots of MIDI to whatever PCBs, and XBee wireless interfaces for motor/solenoid drive etc) but I want to also integrate some synth stuff as I’m keen on moving into physically patching logic to drive some of my sculptures, rather than programming, which I feel could be an interesting crossover between analogue modular synth and kinetic/mechatronic sculpture. So my designs will mostly live in that crossover world, adapting and expanding old basic modules to do things that weren’t intended originally.

Thanks for such a great bunch of responses too - it’s a super friendly place in here in comparison to various other forums and places I interact online with.


If you wonder about the ethics:

Take a look at the guitar amp and pedal world.
Companies like Marshall probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for adapting designs.
Some products even have names that are heavily based or wordplay on the original.

Also, take a look at companies like Behringer. They don’t seem to care about ethics at all. Adapt one of their products if you have the chance :slight_smile:

So much technology and so many products are based on existing designs and building blocks, it’s virtually impossible to come up with something truly unique.

Information should be available to anyone. If you want to be nice, give a shoutout to the creator :slight_smile:


hahahaha yep - and the endless array of effectively the same fuzz pedal that goes on!

I hadn’t thought about it this way - but at the same time, companies and corporations aren’t known to be “nice guys” so I like to make sure I can fit in rather than ruffle feathers and offend.

Oh and of course - shout outs where shout outs are due!


Just to add two cents from someone who has, and hopes to never use, a lawyer: I trademarked ai synthesis for fun mostly. I have a weird sense of fun I suppose.
Most people think about legality of circuits in terms of patents and schematics. That is a little outdated (80s). No one patents schematics in the synth world anymore. The DMCA and other brand protection laws (corporate BS) of the late 90s, early 00s make it much easier for a maker to sue another maker. If you look at the lawsuits behringer (for example) has lost (to boss, etc), they lost because of brand confusion and counterfeit arguments. It didn’t even matter whether the circuits were stolen, they just looked too much like the Boss product. So B made all their pedals look like line 6 lol.
That’s all second hand from my actual trademark lawyer who I hope I never email even though she is nice.


I’ve argued passionately that companies making faithful copies of analogue synthesizers should be encouraged, while others have argued with equal conviction that anybody borrowing, say, a Peter Zinovieff (Putney, EMS) design should refrain. I hold to my argument that the propagation of good designs is a universal good. I might waver a little when confronted with an efficient method of mass-slaughter, but as we’re discussing electronic music I think I’m on safe ground until the US military finds a way to weaponise the Moog 24db ladder filter. (Okay, now I’m getting a bit worried. Maybe Ned Ludd was right.)