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If there was a "law/legal" stack exchange site I'd post it there, but it's in its infant stages in Area 51. I'm a musician and an electrical engineering student. I've designed a modification to the pickup system of my acoustic/electric guitar that I know some people within a certain circle would be pretty interested in. I've read a lot of complaints about the stock pickup system on electronics forums, and it doesn't seem that anyone has figured out a solution, so I thought I'd make a detailed video on the work I've done. To be honest there's not too much to it, but if I post some partial schematics of the part of the original preamp I've managed to reverse engineer, can that get me into legal trouble at all? I don't plan on marketing this modification at all; I just want to share what I've done.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It seems that a major point is: may your modification prevent the original item from being sold? \$\endgroup\$ – clabacchio Apr 27 '12 at 6:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm really not interested in recreating their product at all. What I'm going to do is make a piece to interface a different sort of pickup to their preamp. The interface (really just a buffer amp) is my own design (hardly, as it's so simple). The tricky part was figuring out where exactly to connect it and how the other pickups are connected so I can put some switches in, etc. I just want to share that information. \$\endgroup\$ – Andrew Apr 27 '12 at 8:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ So if it's only a hack, I guess that it's not reverse engineering because it doesn't involve the redesign of the original part. And I would say it's legal. \$\endgroup\$ – clabacchio Apr 27 '12 at 8:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's a distinction between copying/reproducing something & selling it, for money, and posting a YouTube vid of how to hack it a little. You're not making money, you're very unlikely to be revealing any trade secrets that a half-competent engineer couldn't derive very easily, and I'd be shocked and amazed if there's any really original design in a guitar pickup. \$\endgroup\$ – John U Aug 30 '13 at 8:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why not write/call the manufacturer's customer support and ask? Writing has the bonus of a paper trail. \$\endgroup\$ – Vorac Sep 2 '13 at 9:04
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The best answer is always "talk to a lawyer." That being said, you could check out any kind of license agreement you may have implicitly agreed to when you purchased the item. Since you are not marketing this modification, the worst that could happen is that you could get a takedown request/notice for the video or a cease and desist letter. Odds are, the company either will not care or will see this as free advertising.

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In general there are two main problems with reverse engineering: patents and copyrights. For US, it is often said that only the actual component layout is covered by copyright and you'll have problems if you directly copy it.

The patents on the other hand protect the idea itself and the patent descriptions try to be as broad and vague as possible in order to cover a much room as possible. If you reverse engineer a patented idea, the idea is still covered by patent and the company can still chase you in case of reverse engineering.

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    \$\begingroup\$ But AFAIK a patent gives you the right to prevent someone else from manufacturing the patented item or using the patented process. It does not prevent anyone from publishing information about it. Note that there are more than those two issues, like licenses, confidentiality, Millenium act. \$\endgroup\$ – Wouter van Ooijen Apr 27 '12 at 6:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wouter van Ooijen Yes, I agree with that. My post was probably unclear. I meant what you wrote. \$\endgroup\$ – AndrejaKo Apr 27 '12 at 16:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @WoutervanOoijen In fact if a thing is patented is not needed to reverse engineer, you will find everything published on a public domain. This is one of the requirements to have a patent granted, you have to provide all information to it publicly. Check this out youtu.be/Fj7e3WGUKO8?t=35m37s \$\endgroup\$ – Vitim.us Aug 30 '13 at 4:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ You'll find details sufficient for a practitioner to replicate, but you will rarely find completely enabling documents within the patent. \$\endgroup\$ – Scott Seidman Aug 30 '13 at 15:12
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AndrejaKo is right about the patents. To prevent you to come up with some variation to the invention patents are never very specific, so that they cover any possible variant.
Also, most of the time it's not just the product which is patented, but patents are registered for every possible detail. I've seen relatively simple products listing over 150 patents. It's almost impossible that you can use anything from that design.

You can reverse engineer as much as you want to study the design, but you can't use any of it, especially not for production. It's unlikely that lawyers will hunt you down if you reproduce a design for your own use, just a single copy, albeit because they won't be aware of it.

The layout copyright is hardly relevant if you can't use the schematic anyway.

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The concept of patents is disclosure of invention and make minor improvements to prior art. So you are not violating their design, but showing creative improvements . The value of a patents only comes to bear when others profit by similar results and get caught or the patents are worth selling.

This company would not likely waste their time or money taking you to court.

But for the entertainment field, it might detract from revenue to copy ideas and make free so people like Google/ YouTube censor copyright protected music etc. on personal uploads.

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Reverse engineering is understanding of how things work.

I think it is not illegal when to reverse engineering anything. It's like hear the chords of a song and write it down to a paper.

Unless you use the design to produce and sell copies, if you do it will be copyright infringement and or patent violation.

But this is just my opinion, I'm not a laywer.

In fact if something is patented and have a patent number, it makes it a lot easier to reverse engineer. Because in order to have a patent granted, the owner have to provide all the information about the related patent, through a public domain.

A patent does not make anything harder to be copied, it makes it easier, it just give the owner legal rights to sue anyone that is using your patent.

A example can be found here: http://youtu.be/Fj7e3WGUKO8?t=35m37s

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Sounds legal, but I'm not a lawyer. Is the original preamp you're concerned about patented? If so, is the patent expired? Even if its still covered by active patent, you're probably not violating the patent.

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