Most Aion FX projects are adaptations of the circuits of commercial pedals. While many of the original circuits have been discontinued, some are commercially available.
If we traced a pedal of yours or published a schematic, we understand that it’s probably alarming and disappointing to see the details of your work laid bare. Our goal isn’t to stick a knife in you or your company, and that’s not at all what is happening here. We’re reasonable, and we hope you are too.
However, since the first thought is often toward legal remedy, we have to first offer some legal perspective before we get to the broader discussion of ethics.
Comparative use of trademarks
We generally try to include the name of the commercial product that one of our projects is based on, and many of those company or product names are trademarked. In using trademarked names to compare our circuit, it falls squarely under fair use and is fully allowable under United States trademark law with regard to comparative advertising, as the Aion FX product does compare to the commercial pedal in the ways that we claim.
We do not in any way represent our products (printed circuit boards and electronic components) as a replica or imitation of a fully assembled and working pedal, and we do not use copyrighted logos or artwork anywhere except in photographs of the original pedal. There is no chance that anyone would mistake our product as being endorsed by the commercial entity whose name we mention for comparative purposes, and we are in no way attempting to pass it off as such. We disclaim any and all affiliations with these commercial entities unless otherwise noted.
At times, there have been claims that a schematic or printed circuit board layout (even if it is re-drawn) is intellectual property. Legally speaking, “intellectual property” is just an umbrella term for its subsets: 1) patents, 2) copyrights, 3) trademarks, and 4) trade secrets. Therefore, any legal claim of an intellectual property violation must more specifically invoke one of the subsets. “Intellectual property” has no legal meaning on its own.
Speaking broadly, a schematic—the representation of electronic connections between components—cannot be copyrighted or trademarked, and it is not a trade secret if the circuit was independently reverse-engineered. Patents are the only avenue by which someone may have a claim against what we do here, but they are extremely rare in analog electronics today and very few are granted by the USPTO. We are aware of most of the active patents that apply to analog guitar effects pedals and we do our best to respect and avoid them.
The only way a schematic can violate copyright is if it was a copy of the original artwork, for example a factory schematic that was drawn by the company who manufactured the pedal. Schematics that we have re-drawn are in fact copyrighted by Aion FX irrespective of the circuit that they represent and therefore cannot be the subject of an outside copyright claim.
While we do host some factory schematics for archival purposes, these are almost exclusively from the 1980s or earlier and have been widely distributed for many years. Many of the original companies no longer exist. However, if you are the copyright owner of a document we host on this site, you may contact us to request we take it down. Please include proof of copyright ownership.
Printed circuit board layouts
The PCB layout itself is another aspect of a pedal that can potentially be covered under copyright. However, some have misunderstood this to again refer to the circuit—the connections between the components—when it’s actually only covering the layout as a work of art.
All of our PCB layouts are original designs and are copyrighted by Aion FX. We do not produce replicas of circuit boards, vintage or otherwise, and no part of the original PCB layout is reused in our work. Therefore, as with a re-drawn schematic, the PCB itself is not subject to any copyright claims.
All of our projects have their own names, e.g. Viridian or Phobos. We do our best to research each potential name for originality before assigning it to a project. However, due to the sheer number of commercial pedals and the prevalence of small builders, with many new products entering the market every week, we sometimes miss the fact that someone else has used the name within the industry.
If one of our project names is in violation of your copyright or trademark and you’d like us to change it, please contact us and let us know. Please include proof of prior commercial use, e.g. a sales record that predates the release of our project.
DMCA takedown notices
We work hard to ensure that nothing on this site infringes any copyrights. With that said, we have carefully chosen a web host who doesn’t play games with DMCA intimidation. We are informed and experienced in the legal process behind DMCA notices, and we have a DMCA counter-notice template ready to go in case it is necessary.
In addition, be aware that frivolous DMCA notices can backfire on the copyright owner. See Lenz v. Universal Music Corp. 572 F.Supp.2d 1150 (N.D. Cal. 2008) where a district court ruled that because fair use was not considered, the claimant failed to act in good faith.
Legally speaking, nothing we do is in violation of trademarks, copyrights, patents, or trade secrets as they related to United States law, and any attempt to intimidate or threaten frivolous legal action will be recognized and understood for what it is.
With that out of the way…
We understand that your circuit may be the product of a great deal of time and research. However, this is just one of the risks of entering the market and having a good product. Every single pedal manufacturer out there is subject to the same possibility of having their work traced and publicized. It’s not piracy, it’s not unethical, and it’s most certainly not illegal.
We develop new circuits as well, and have been doing so for years. We understand that by putting them out there for other people to use, there’s a chance that someone else could build off our work and even make money from it.
These are the table stakes for getting into the analog pedal business. Regardless of the amount of development time that was spent initially in getting it to market, if your product is something that can be traced out in a matter of a few hours, and a comparable version built using off-the-shelf parts ordered from electronic component distributors, then it’s not something that you can expect to protect or to prevent people from analyzing.
It’s better to see it as a badge of honor. If anything, it raises the profile of the product. Having the schematic publicized will confirm to people that it is in fact what it claims to be. If your pedal shows the signs of hard work and thoughtful design, you have nothing to worry about.
The other thing to understand is that we’re not marketing to your intended customers. We sell unpopulated PCBs and kits to people who know how to build their own pedals, and people who build their own pedals generally do not buy new ones. We aren’t dissuading potential customers from buying your pedal—very much the opposite. Due to the amount of spillover between the DIY communities and commercial gear communities, a good reputation among DIYers will always pay dividends.
The Streisand effect
It’s also prudent to mention that DIY community as a whole is very protective of their rights to analyze and build circuits, and there have been a few cases where attempts to suppress this fully legal and allowable freedom have caused a “Streisand effect” where the attempt to suppress information is itself the thing that attracts attention. An ill-intentioned campaign to try to control something will often itself be the cause of that thing becoming uncontrollable. (This is only an insight into social phenomenons, not a threat.)
If we traced your pedal or created a project based on it, this means we have a lot of respect for what you’ve done. We think of ourselves as a museum of sorts, an archive of analog circuits—some of which are largely forgotten, and others that are at risk of being forgotten in the future if they aren’t conserved today. We believe it’s an honor to be included in the Aion FX archive and we hope you can see it that way too.