I am working on a PCB layout, not based on any other PCB layout. The netlist used for the PCB, comes from my schematic, which is under GPLv3.

Is the PCB layout under GPLv3?

I will be selling finished products containing my designed PCBs, and would like to hold off publishing my PCB layout for at least a year, but I won't if the GPLv3 must pass on to the PCB layout because it uses a netlist exported from my GPLv3 schematic.

My schematic is GPLv3, because half of it is based on another GPLv3 schematic.

  • Applying copyright-based licenses like the GPL to hardware is difficult because hardware designs usually aren't copyrightable. In particular, data or facts are not copyrightable because they lacks creative elements. I could see an argument that elements of a PCB design can be copyright-protected, but not schematics or netlists.
    – amon
    Sep 18, 2019 at 12:41
  • @amon I think it would be great if someone could do a canonical question-answer pair explaining the difficulties with hardware licenses. I could maybe write the question, but I'm not the person to write the answer. Sep 19, 2019 at 11:55
  • 2
    @PhilipKendall Unfortunately I'm not really knowledgeable about the area – just enough to know about potential problems. That's why I only wrote a comment here instead of an answer.
    – amon
    Sep 19, 2019 at 15:32

2 Answers 2


At mentioned in the comment, there are hardware related issues around copyright law.

However, non of this matters.

Because you own the copyright of your schematic, you are not bound by it (you can not be in breach of a contract with your self, as both parties will automatically agree). You can change your licence at will (but can not take away a licence from a 3rd party).

  • 2
    As mentioned at the end of my question, my schematic is GPLv3, because it has some sections from someone else's GPLv3 schematic, so I do not fully own the copyright to it?
    – bdthing
    Sep 21, 2019 at 0:00

I may be wrong, but

  • the scheme is GPLv3 work based on other GPLv3 work (and added work) and is software
  • compiling the software you get netlist, which is data (object form) of such scheme so it is GPLv3 too
  • from here I am not sure
  • the PCB layout si based on the netlist and could be considered "Instalation Information" in making specific PCB, while if would be Source/Object code in order to make another PCB Layout.
    • so if you provide the Layout as "Instalation Information" to PCB making company, with restriction only to follow it to install the netpart to copper traces on PCB you are not bounded to provide it to PCB users, as there is no way to change the copper traces (as is no way to instal something to ROM) on the finished PCB. (part (6) in GPLv3, which ends with ...ROM)), if you make contract with the factory, that the factory works (create your PBCs) on your behalf only and is not entitled to convey your work to enyone else (the 2. paragraph of part (2)

You may make, run and propagate covered works that you do not convey, without conditions so long as your license otherwise remains in force. You may convey covered works to others for the sole purpose of having them make modifications exclusively for you, or provide you with facilities for running those works, provided that you comply with the terms of this License in conveying all material for which you do not control copyright. Those thus making or running the covered works for you must do so exclusively on your behalf, under your direction and control, on terms that prohibit them from making any copies of your copyrighted material outside their relationship with you.

  • but if you publish your Layout so it could be used by others it still be covered work and so entitled the Source Code

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