The accidental “mode of production” (to borrow a term from Uncle Karl) for O&C may be of interest…
O&C was designed and released by Max Stadler as a strictly DIY digital ASR module (to recreate Keith Fullerton Whitman pieces) with open-source code, but not open-source hardware (you had to buy PCBs from Max, PCB layout files and full schematics were not published), with the expectation that it would have only niche appeal. But purely by chance, Patrick Dowling and I started hacking its code (and 99% of the credit goes to Patrick, who as a professional embedded system software engineer worked miracles), and various bits of Mutable Instruments code were folded in and re-purposed (similar to the way Mutable code was used as the basis for the XAOC Batumi), and then Max joined in, and before we knew it, O&C had the potential for mass appeal. At that stage we thought it best to formalise the open-source licensing of the code, and to publish full schematics and PCB design files, so it would be fully open-source in the same way that Mutable designs are. I admit to persuading (but in no way pressuring) Max to do that, arguing that it would encourage more DIY construction, reduce the burden on Max on having to fulfil requests for PCBs, and it might spark a sort of distributed cottage industry production facility to produce O&C modules for those who weren’t in a position to DIY one or two for themselves. Before releasing the PCB files, we seriously debated manufacturing O&Cs ourselves, but we all had (and still have) full-time jobs, and it seemed like too much hassle.
Thus, the O&C PCB files were released under a CC-BY-SA license, together with a request that anyone wishing to manufacture (or have manufactured) and sell O&C PCBs and/or finished modules on a commercial basis please contact us to discuss the proposition and arrange a small contribution to ongoing O&C development (and I mean small, of the order of a few euros per assembled module, and a few euro cents per PCB).
To our surprise, a lot of people, and some established synth stores, and some niche designers/manufacturers (eg Northern Lights) started to offer O&C PCBs and/or finished modules for sale. Some of these people did the right thing and contacted us and offered to make contributions to the “O&C R&D fund”, and some of those even sent us some funds. The Northern Lights people were particularly good in that respect, but so were many others. All together we have received a few thousand euros, which has been spent on things like a proper multimeter to allow thorough testing of the calibration mechanisms in O&C, and on quite a few development boards and the like to explore possibilities for an O&C mk2 design (but with no definite conclusions in that respect).
Anyway, the end result is that there are, we estimate, several thousand O&Cs out there in the wild, most of which have been manufactured by hand in a cottage industry fashion. We were worried by the potential for disasters due to absent or poor quality control, or shoddy calibration etc, but in fact, there hasn’t been a tsunami of complaints, nor a huge number of support issues relating to such third-party manufacture. There are certain DIY support issues, but we’re happy to deal with those (up to a point, and there are now a lot of people familiar with the O&C hardware, so it is a shared burden). We always refer buyers of assembled O&C modules back to the original supplier for support in the first instance, but often other of the cottage industry manufacturers (probably better called “makers”) also offer to fix modules at minimal cost.
So, it certainly hasn’t been a disaster, and as an accidental experiment in unintentional distributed manufacturing (which dodges all the regulatory and compliance responsibilities to which @pichnettes referred), it has been mostly a success.
The only slightly sour note has been the PCB “group-buy” people led by Pusherman, who also order and sell Mutable PCBs by the thousands. Our complaint was not so much that they were doing such PCB sales on such an industrial scale, but that they were doing so without bothering to contact us, rather, organising it all in secret via closed Facebook groups. That seemed contrary to the open-source spirit, if not to the letter of the open-source licensing. Anyway, that’s ancient history now.
What would we have done differently? Personally, I think that we should have used a CC-BY-SA-NC license on the PCB design files – the NC bit standing for “Non-Commercial” – and then made it clear that we would potentially offer a secondary commercial license to those wishing to manufacture and sell O&C modules (or sell PCBs etc). The main reason for doing so would be to ensure that the third-party commercial “makers” were technically competent and prepared to offer some after-sales support. I know the NC clauses are almost impossible to enforce, but they do at least provide a clear moral imperative. There’s nothing that we would do differently with respect to licensing the code - any approved open-source license is fine, although personally I favour copyleft licenses such as the GPL.
Anyway, I think the O&C “mode of production”, with the tweaks mentioned above, could serve as a model for a line of “punk” Mutable modules.
I haven’t mentioned panels or the manual and other documentation files. There are additional issues there, but I’ve run out of time.
Yes, I understand such concerns. It worried us. We seem to have gotten away with it for O&C mk1, but I don’t think we’d do it again without the modifications mentioned above, which would allow some vetting of the distributed manufacturing workforce. But I can also foresee issues, particularly if someone who applies for a commercial cottage industry license is then declined. Bad blood is likely to follow. But a by-invitation only approach might work and avoid such nastiness, in the same way that the Mutable beta testing program works.