Fighting for freerecyling

Taking the money and running…

I was asked today by someone who wants to remain anonymous why TFN styled groups often state on their home or about pages that they are not a non-profit organisation.

Although a surprising statement it really is meant to say that. The simple answer being to put very clear distance between that group/organisation and The Freecycle Network’s approach. That’s the short answer…

The background in this is that The Freecycle Network established itself as a non-profit and accepted donations. Now in many ways that makes sense because it means you are better off tax-wise and you are establishing yourself in the non-profit sector. And if especially you are going to get donations then you think you need to think about that.

The downside is that you are making a “business” out of what you are doing. It means that you need to consider where your donations came from and if they come with any agenda or caveats.

And here is where The Freecycle Network seems to have moved into tricky territory. Ever since they have acted like a business, which is possibly fine if they limited it to themselves. But they act totally privately, not releasing any financials even though as a non-profit they are supposed to by law, at least that is my understanding.

But they have then acted as if each group and each member belonged to them, as if each group was part of that business. They have acted as if each group’s moderator signed up to become a volunteer to further The Freecycle Network’s aims.

Now this is subtle. Yes we all accord with reducing landfill and gifting to the local community but does that mean we sign up to what The Freecycle Network has become. Well if it limited itself to that agenda, fine.

But did we sign up for a campaign to send Cease and Desist letters out? Did we sign up to promote a political agenda on the UK Climate Change bill? Did we sign up to an organisation that could if its non-profit status was revoked, close itself down and then sell company name, its domain name, its trademarks and other assets for a value in the $bil region, and then go off and live in the sun on those funds?

Did we sign up to an organisation that instructs “do as we say, not as we do?” Did we sign up to something where we had no say and no influence? Did we sign up to an organisation that acts unilaterally in any direction it feels? Did we sign up to an organisation that prohibits free speech?

Did we sign up to an organisation that would infiltrate our groups under aliases to watch what was going on. Did we sign up to abuse of ids such as ErsatzFriend?

And who are the “we” that did all this signing. Is it the group owners, the moderators, only ones registered on the modsquads or is it the wider membership? Or is it limited to the GOAs, NGAs, IMODs and other elevated moderators?

And what if an owner of a group is not trademark compliant, what then? If they are a bad group then they cannot per se be a proper part of this happy band. Go further and what happens if a group totally disassociates itself from freecycle by removing all logos, trademarks and renames the group, with or without a poll, what then? And if we are deemed to be not trademark compliant when exactly did we sign up to a one-way ticket to delisting and AstroTurf?

I mean suppose TFN wanted to be totally democratic and ran an EGM to which everyone was invited with free transport (globally) in some gigantic hotel. Would it invite disaffected groups? Would it invite groups that were not totally trademark compliant? Who exactly would get a vote? And what voting system would be in place?

These are all issues that The Freecycle Network goes in its own merry way doing its own thing and trampling all over groups as they see fit. No, they are not owned by Yahoo, but yes they have absolutely gone to Yahoo and told them when they think groups are breaking Yahoo terms and conditions, which at one point clearly included having “freecycle” in the name and yet not being a TFN trademark compliant group. And to such groups TFN instructed Yahoo to delete the groups, which Yahoo did, instantly. These days TFN has a harder life getting groups deleted (because the trademark claim is contentious at best, I think), perhaps, but it still tries.

The bottom line is there is no charter of affiliation between any member or any group and The Freecycle Network, just some words on a home page that can change in an instant. Without that charter the only thing left is trust, a relationship built on trust. And trust to be effective must be mutual respect.

So umbrella organisations disassociate themselves from The Freecycle Network’s stance because they want none of it. If the money that comes in donations means that you seem to be focusing on the dollar rather than supporting your grassroots movement then it is a sad, no it is worse, it is a bad day.


July 19, 2007 - Posted by | eresatzfriend, freecycle, goa

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