Fighting for freerecyling

When is a noun, not a noun

When the word is freecycle. Someone who started the trademarking initiative off really got their knickers in a twist about the English (whether US or UK or whatever) language. They “decided” that the word freecycle was a noun.

Until that point derivatives that The Freecycle Network (both centrally and across all groups) had been propagating were verb forms such as freecycler, freecycling (as in Keep On Freecyclin’), freecycles and freecycled. These verb forms roll off the tongue so exquisitely that any search for these across the Internet will yields 1000’s of hits. However when their trademarking initiative started verb forms became a banned thing.

But in fact almost every single one of the newswire pages linked to from the official freecycle network pages, whether in the USA, or the UK or indeed any country – almost all the newswire articles refer to freecycle as a verb. So in linking to these news articles The Freecycle Network is going against its own noun definition.

I will just give you one example running from today’s home page for TFN, here in the UK. At the bottom right corner in their newswire links is an article entitled Online Freecycling club sees pig fly off to join new owner. If you look through the official TFN newswire archives they are full of links to news articles that are clearly in trademark infringement (according to TFN definition) and really instead of being posted as official news articles on behalf of TFN they should have a Cease and Desist letter sent out. (For your benefit in case this particular link goes, here is the original article.)

This official support for freecycle as a verb is not a new thing inside TFN. It is something they have done from the very first days even before they started their newswire, but since then it has grown exponentially.

I understand that TFN cannot be held responsible for the words spoken by journalists. But these news articles often are quoting what are we are lead to believe are bona-fide trademark compliant groups. Not only are the groups allowed to promote freecycle as a verb in whatever way shape or form they want, but also TFN officially propagates all that on its newswire.

I will go so far as to argue that the search terms used by TFN to research and build up its newswire include all the verb forms.

If TFN was truly serious about its trademark claims then should it not send Cease and Desist letters to each and every one of their news feed articles where a trademark infringement occurs?

Further to that, surely shouldn’t Deron Beal, the father of TFN, make sure that his own freecycle group and website are in order first? If you look at this TFN official newswire page then you will see that even in Tuscon there exists at least one ‘freecycler’. This is not even an old article – this one is very recent, viz 29th June, 2007.

In fact, since the official website for The Freecycle Network is fighting a law suit in which Tim Oey is accused of encouraging propagation of the word freecycle in verb forms, surely there is a contradiction here. I just can’t quite put my finger on it.

September 10, 2007 Posted by | freecycle, trademark | Leave a comment

Why trademarking freecycle is a bad thing

People who read this blog will see that I am not exactly pro-trademarking. For many they may think I am trying to do TFN down. This is most definitely not the case. It is just that for the kind of industry that TFN operates in trademarking is a very wrong thing to do. In addition to the criticisms I have levelled elsewhere in this blog there is one fundamental reason about which I have not blogged so far, at least in detail.

So far what I have concentrated on is whether TFN actually have a right to trademark. I am sure that from Deron’s perspective he is thinking well if I do not have that right, then no one else does.

To understand this you must envisage the initial meetings between the founder of TFN and its legal and accounting advisers. They might argue things like, “if you do not trademark then anyone or any company will be able to take the name over and use it against you.”

This, I feel is probably the key argument that might have been made in favour of trademarking. Sadly it is wrong.

We all know (at least I hope all my readers know) there is a court case about the freecycle trademark claim going through the 9th Circuit courts. The result which was due last month is now due this month. Predicting exactly when the result might appear seems a challenge, so we will just wait and when I know, so will you.

So here what I would like to concentrate on is why I think trademarking the word freecycle is fundamentally a wrong turn for TFN.

If anyone has made a big “business” out of the word freecycle then it has to be Deron – 76 countries, 4000 groups is no mean feat. There are a number of people who claim, with evidence, that he “gave” the word freecycle to the world. In the beginning, for example, he built the first website boasting the verb “freecycling” (actually the “g” was dropped in favour of an apostrophe. Beyond that he encouraged groups to use the word freely. No mention was made of trademarking.

And then the lawyers got involved and, in my opinion advised Deron badly. They knew that if they were acting pro-bono on that day and in the near future then if they were ever going to recoup their investment in full then advising against trademarking was not the way to do that. Instead looking at the value of Internet domain name sales and also the value of strong brand names must have seemed like manna from heaven, just a few years downstream. So why not trademark?

So, with no answers being stated, the crank started on the trademark machinery factory. In the UK we tend to be more driven by accountants than lawyers, so we might have have a clearer perspective on a subject such as this. In the USA once the first turn had been made the engine started and has never stopped ever since.

I am sure that in his heart of hearts right at the beginning Deron knew that trademarking was wrong. That was why he encouraged full use of the word (that had actually been first registered as a domain name for other businesses three or four years earlier in the year 2000).

So what IS wrong with the trademarking engine.

I believe that if Deron had not gone down the trademarking way then the word would have truly been accepted as a generic word. 76 countries and 10 million people all freecycling as freecyclers and all the volunteers is a fair bit of ammunition to stop any would be predator company coming in.

I believe that owning and maintaining the domain name associated with this worldwide enterprise would have been sufficient.

I believe that if Deron had not gone down the trademarking route then he would have had so much credibility from the world that 76 countries and 10 million people and all the volunteers would have supported him to the ends of the earth.

All this would have happened because that is the nature of Internet social communities.

It is not too late to stop.

September 10, 2007 Posted by | freecycle, trademark | Leave a comment

Allusion is such a wonderful word

Following recent debate on this blog, I am going to attempt to restrict myself to allusions. One allusion is that I might make, refers to insinuations that the critics of TFN are in it for profit, as someone at the very top of the powers that be might have said it back in July 28th, “by individuals wishing to increase their private gain by scaring local Freecycle moderators.”

So let me ask a straight question. Who stands to gain?

I mean my bank account is pretty well dry, so I would like to gain something. I know my way around the Internet. I could dedicate a section on my blog for GoogleAds and since the number of hits on this blog are quite healthy thereby generate a modest income. I have done that in the past for other websites. But I don’t do that for this blog – on principle. The principle being that this blog is for the good of freecyclers everywhere.

A second allusion might be that the same person would write in the same posting, “Every good urban legend and internet rumor will contain just enough truth to get the attention of the reader.” Note the misspelling of rumour is probably as would have been written. So let us look at urban legends. A great source for this is the online Urban Dictionary. If you search on this for the generic word freecycle, what do you find? Well that same person reiterating that they somehow created the word freecycle in 2003, whereas just a whole 3 years earlier, not months but years somehow a couple of websites with this name somehow existed, as commented on in this blog a few days ago. As far as I know, these domain names are nothing to do with TFN, Deron Beal, myself or any critic.
I mean, come on, are The Powers That Be in TFN really saying that the Internet databases held by such definitive resources as Icann are wholly corrupt? Next, perhaps The Powers That Be will be claiming that Microsoft’s name was created by them, oh when was it – just yesterday.

September 8, 2007 Posted by | freecycle, trademark | Leave a comment

Another reason why TFN cannot trademark the word freecycle

To trademark something you need to be the sole user of that word or logo. As far as the word freecycle goes it would be nice to think that TFN actually created the word freecycle. However it is patently untrue.

Yes, Deron created The Freecycle Network, and yes Deron registered the domain name. However both of these events only happened in 2003. If you check the whois records for other variants of freecycle you can see that:

  • was created as a domain name on 29th March, 2000
  • was created as a domain name on the 2nd February, 2000

These claims to the word freecycle are both over three years prior to TFN reusing the word freecycle. These websites are still running. They are still running as bona-fide businesses and still trading under the name of freecycle.

Besides these are several other “freecycle” websites that are nothing to do with TFN activities, such as These however, as domain names were created after TFN’s creation in 2003.

If you look into the records for the variants of “freecycling”, again you will find them as in use by various businesses although none of these pre-date TFN.

Have any of these organisations and websites have had trademarking Cease and Desist letters aimed at them? If so, have any of these organisations acted to such letters? The answer is patently no, and therefore here is yet another very serious nail in the coffin of Deron’s trademarking claims.

September 6, 2007 Posted by | cease and desist, freecycle, trademark | 1 Comment

Top Posts 4: 652 groups deleted on TFN’s instruction

You know it is difficult to believe that TFN actually want to stop items going to landfill when their primary aim is to stop groups operating. I have just re-read some of the mountain of evidence on the What’s Up/Down at Freecycle posting on the Business Week website. It makes for amazing reading. I am just going to pick out one gem that really demonstrates the corporate controlling attitude of TFN.

“I just wanted to drop a note… 652 groups were recently removed by Yahoo for copyright infringement. These are mostly groups that were originally rejected by the approver or went rogue. Dean and the database team worked VERY hard on this- it was a lot of work, and it’s not over yet. HUGE KUDOS to Dean, Dorothy, Judy, and Loretta for their tremendous efforts (and special thanks to Judy for her heroic and time-consuming continued work on this). Thanks to Judy’s work and the C&D letters, this number was narrowed down from more than 3,000 entries in the database! This is a huge accomplishment and will certainly help our cause in many ways (including demonstrating our responsibility to the patent & trademark office). Three cheers!! ~emily”

This posting probably dates from sometime around 2005. But this leopard has not changed it spots. They have continued to work on purging groups for the following two years. They are on a mission.

Note there is no attempt from TFN to help groups correct any trademark infringement. Their is no sense of tolerance. This is an intolerant company hell bent on wreaking havoc on anyone and anything they see fit to. They run their blacklist and add to it and then hit the delete button. And they are so proud of this attitude, that’s what gets me.

Come on TFN get a life. We are not terrorists. There is no reason to come after groups with guns ablazing. This is, hopefully a tolerant society. You, me, we are all frail and make mistakes. You must stop this shoot first, ask questions later mentality.

Why don’t you actually ask groups and individuals where their problems lie? Why don’t you see if there is a common thread across a range of groups that might indicate that there are better ways of doing things? Why don’t you actually engage with people and groups in a visible discussion? What do you have to fear so much that you use your cloak and dagger techniques. Come on this is not the dark ages. Surely The Spanish Inquisition is well and truly over.

Of course there are always going to be groups and their owners and moderators who just want to keep their heads down. But TFN is revamping its rules without discussion and without notice. So any group that was compliant yesterday may find itself non-compliant tomorrow. The first a particular “heads down” group will know about it is probably a 48 hour deadline notice of deletion from Yahoo, without any indication or help as to what the infringement is. And if you are one of 652 groups being targetted I am sure that TFN’s resources for helping you out are going to be stretched. That is assuming they wanted to help.

September 5, 2007 Posted by | freecycle, trademark, yahoogroups | 3 Comments

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

If you want to check out the latest status on TFN’s trademark registration claim then there is a page from USPTO that should give you the official summary of latest status. They key line from this as I write is, “An opposition is now pending at the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.”

September 2, 2007 Posted by | freecycle, trademark, uspto | Leave a comment

24 hours countdown

This is possibly one of the most important moments in free speech history. Will TFN win their fight to disparage Tim Oey for trademark disparagement? To the novitiate this may simply seem a matter limited to the word freecycle, whereas in fact if the Ninth Circuit rules in favour of TFN then no one will be able to disparage any trademark, including Microsoft, Coca-Cola. Make no mistake this is the big one.

August 22, 2007 Posted by | freecycle, trademark | 3 Comments

Freegans rock

Following my daughter’s total veganist lifestyle I am moving step by step from being a veggie to the whole ethos of veganism. Freegans looks at the wider implications of vegan thinking and every time I visit the site I find myself questioning my lifestyle choices, and hopefully improving them as a result. You might ask is this on topic for this blog?

Well I think if you look at the monster that TFN seems to have become then you will quickly see why freegans deserve a mention. The UK newspaper, The Oberserver quotes Deron Beal “The philosophy of the group is to let go of ownership” in an article reminding me of freegans. I would just love to have that same level of confidence in TFN.

The reality is that yes, TFN let go of ownership in an idealistic way. This has enabled phenomenal growth of the industry, but then TFN has tried hard to rain everything back in using the tools of trademark, embellished in very poor management and control. If you look at the archive posts of this blog you will find full and plentiful testament to this. If you visit the many links on the blogroll the evidence is insuperable.

So, yes TFN let go of ownership. In fact it tried to own something it never did own in the first place – something akin to YahooGroups. But that is another story.

As any parent of grown up children knows only too well, once their child has grown up and left home as an adult, from that moment onwards they are independent and will live life in their own way. Any attempt at further parental control them meets with frustration in all its forms.

August 20, 2007 Posted by | freecycle, trademark, yahoogroups | Leave a comment

Calling all “freecycle” group owners

TFN is on a mass campaign to ensure that any group that displays even the smallest infringement of copyright, left, upside-down or XXX forbid, actually use their trademark – well you are likely to find your group deleted by Yahoo with no notice. The reasons used by TFN are around their spurious claims on trademark. That’s the bad news.

The best notice you are likely to get is an email from Yahoo saying that you should take up any grievance with TFN. But that is exactly what you should not do. Let me awright that – yes do complain to TFN, complain to the press, but above all complain back to Yahoo.

The good news is that the word is out that Yahoo will reinstate groups that complain. So if enough ex-group owners and moderators complain then someone will get the message and you will help preent other group owners going through the same pain. You should address any Yahoo emails to copyright at yahoo dot com. There are a wide range of email addresses that you can also email to help gain credence for your case of reinstatement. See fcnext for more details.

August 15, 2007 Posted by | fcnext, freecycle, trademark | Leave a comment

Subject: Notice of Infringement Date: Tue, 7 Aug

According to Yahoo Terms and Conditions you must behave correctly when using trademarks, and TFN keeps their copyright team busy ensuring this clause is managed. On the 7th of this August month one group received the following notice from Yahoo:

Freecycle has notified Yahoo! Inc. (“Yahoo!”) that one or more trademarks proprietary to Freecycle are used in connection with the Yahoo! Group FreecycleXXX. Freecycle has further notified Yahoo! that the Freecycleolympia group is not authorized to use the “Freecycle” mark(s) in question at:

Group Name (URL)

Yahoo! respects the rights of both its users and the owners and rights holders of intellectual property. Accordingly, Yahoo! intends to
expeditiously remove or disable access to the mark(s) in question.


In order to change your Yahoo! Group name, title and/or description, please follow the instructions below:

1. In the control panel on the left navigation bar of the Group, click on the Management link.
2. Under the Group Settings, click the Description & Appearance link.
3. Under the Web Address heading, click edit to update the Group name (URL).
4. Click the Save Changes button when you are done.
5. Under the Description heading, click edit to update the title or description
6. Click the Save Changes button when you are done.

Through your participation in Yahoo! Groups, you agree to abide by the Yahoo! Terms of Service, as well as any additional Terms of Service applicable to you. The current Yahoo! Terms of Service may be reviewed at: Pursuant to Section 6 of the Terms of Service, Member Conduct, the use of Yahoo! services to “upload, post, email, transmit or otherwise make available any Content that infringes any patent, trademark, trade secret, copyright or other proprietary rights (“Rights”) of any party” is prohibited.

As you know, Yahoo! may terminate any and/or all services and accounts without notice. This notice is provided to you as a courtesy. Without waiving or limiting any rights or remedies Yahoo! has or may have, as the listed owner of the group, you are hereby advised that our receipt of another notification of infringement alleging the infringement of another party’s intellectual property in connection with this group may result in not only the suspension of the group, but the termination of all of your Yahoo! services as well as the deactivation of your Yahoo! ID.

If you believe that the Freecycleolympia group was designated by Freecycle by mistake or misidentification, or if you believe that the group has not infringed upon Freecycle’s trademark rights, you may contact Freecycle directly at:
Copyright Agent, Yahoo! Inc.

Note that Yahoo’s goal here is NOT to delete your group – so simply disassociate yourself with an organisation that does not deserve your or your members’ support and you are good to go. Oh, and by the way, look out for that AstroTurf group that probably already exists and warn your members that you do not advocate them to be associated with same. Ask them if they want to exist in the world of Big Brother that Deron seems to perpetrate, or do they want freedom.

August 13, 2007 Posted by | cease and desist, trademark | Leave a comment