Fighting for freerecyling

The Blissful Ignorance Debate

A conversation I want is to deepen the debate around non-profit corporate status. Currently the only free recycling website that has adopted this approach is TFN. In fact the problems that this blog highlights are insinuated by many critics to be at least in part and arguably largely the fault of TFN becoming a non-profit organisation. This is interesting since any non-profit consultant will say that going non-profit is a “good” thing since it has tax advantages, provides limitation of liability and so on. You can read a reasonably good list of the so-called pros on

The two weird things are that no-one speaks against the idea of becoming a non-profit so de-facto that’s where an organisation might head. Secondly, almost to a person any of the 100’s and possibly lower 1000’s of disaffected group moderators and owners who have left TFN over the years would argue that its non-profit status has done it absolutely no favours. Why this discrepancy?

That’s what I would like right now to instigate an analysis into and following a few more comments I open the floor, either to respond here or more appropriately on say fcnext or International Freecycle Modsquad, or both since they both often exhibit radically different and free-thinking perspectives.

To help you understand my thinking let me assert what I think is wrong with being a non-profit for TFN. Being a non-profit has meant that to TFN that:

  • it has become a company and following this action it has moved it clearly away from being a grassroots movement, and
  • in so doing it has become increasing totally controlling of its member and groups as if they owned them, and
  • it has become a self-serving organisation where everyone and everything else is deemed to owe TFN something and
  • to build up company assets it has then gone down the disastrous cliff-path of trademarking and
  • it has become dependent on funds from a single partisan company for its future existence and
  • with that funding particularly arguably affecting the decisions of its most executive officer since his salary is tied to this.

Those are at least contentious statements, I agree. But what if I hypothesise and play devil’s advocate for a moment and ask, “What if TFN closed its doors totally tomorrow.”

What would happen? I would argue that it would have absolutely no effect on existing or new groups and landfill would still be avoided etc. Yes a number of groups might have a hiccup or two. But other free-recycling website directories and support would pick everything up – in an instant. Support forums already exist and are tried and tested. The rules for running groups are well documented and also tried and tested.

If there is ANY truth in that assertion then it is absolutely key to everything we think about, in my opinion concerning this debate.

If true then fundamentally it is wrong for TFN to ever to have incorporated itself. And all the debacle that has ensued through its turbulent history is because in its heart of hearts its executives, its GOAs, its NGAs, its moderators know that TFN owes infinitely more to its groups, its moderators and its members than the other way round.

Where would TFN be today without any groups, without any members? Sadly I conclude that incorporating as a non-profit simply has been a smoke-screen to make incorporation look palatable, with the boast, “we’re a non-profit so we must be good.”

Remember and this is key to my thinking. Free recycling is not like a normal traditional “charity”. It is an Internet movement full of grassroots volunteers that come out of nowhere and that requires no central resources – and to a large extent it requires no centre.

If you want the one thing at the centre that is needed – it is a directory. And why is a separate directory required? It is because Yahoo Groups directory simply does not work. Good though Yahoo Groups directory is, it is a general purpose directory system covering many other groups and needs and so cannot and does not focus on free recycling. In fact it does not even have either a free recycling or freecycle category, as any group founder knows.

With a decent directory supporting Yahoo groups functionality the 4, 5 or even 6 million members across all free-recycling groups inside and outside TFN can continue free-recycling with no knowledge of this blog, of TFN and any controversy for as long as Yahoo and similar group providers continue to do what they do so well, and all for free. If you do not believe me set of a Google news or blog alert for the word “freecycle”. Any number of news and blog articles appear daily, all created by individuals who have no allegiance to TFN per se. They are all just excited about giving and receiving items locally over Yahoo Groups. They are not going to stop just because TFN might have a problem: members are just going to carry on free-recycling in blissful ignorance.

July 23, 2007 Posted by | freecycle, non-profit status, trademark | 1 Comment

robelliot67 equals Gwyn equals TFN

If you have this member in your TFN group then this is an alias for Gwyn who will be checking up on you for trademark issues. According to her biography on the TFN staff page, “She takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’… No task yet has been too big for her to take on.” Never were words more prophetically true as this is just one of many ids used (or is it abused) by her to remove a respected moderator of a free recycling Yahoo Group.

Sent: Saturday, July 21, 2007 11:17 PM
Subject: Removed from maritimems
This is a notification that robelliott67 has removed you as moderator from the group maritimems.
Yahoo! Groups

Gwyn, if you wish to respond to this then you can use the comments button below but I am sure readers would rather you use your proper identity. Nothing would please readers more than for you to refute that you have ever had controlling access to robelliot67 and that the above log entry is nothing to do with you.

July 22, 2007 Posted by | trademark | 1 Comment

You Simply Cannot Be Serious!

According to The Freecycle Network you cannot freecycle. It is simply not allowed. To freecycle would mean actually removing items from landfill of course and that is surely what we are about. But that is not what The Freecycle Network is about. For them freecycling is and anyone who freecycles is banned.

Yes, it is official, according to their trademark compliance page, anyone that freecycles is simply not trademark compliant. According to that page the ONLY way to use freecycle is either as a noun referring to the company OR as an adjective. That is it.

So, for example, anyone who uses it as a verb is not trademark compliant. And you can be sure of receiving a Cease and Desist email or letter within the next 24 hours. So, owners and moderators I would strongly advise you to admonish your members to stop freecycling now. And tell them that if they freecycle then they will be excommunicated.

You will note that even Deron Beal’s home group in Tuzon, AZ has a problem with this. At the beginning of his second paragraph he really wants to use the word freecycle, but cannot so has to use the incorrect word “recycle”. (We are not about recycling. Freecycling is something totally different, and Deron you really ought to know that by now!)

So if you are into freecycling and actually freecycle something then STOP IT NOW, otherwise you will be taken to the court. Anyone for a game of tennis?

July 20, 2007 Posted by | cease and desist, freecycle, humour, trademark | 3 Comments

A point of clarification…

Some groups have told me they are getting positive help from their GOA regarding trademark compliance. It is always good to get support, and I am glad to hear about. Of course it would help more if GOAs actually spent more time asking groups how they can help them rather than acting like a policeman.

Apparently there is a point at which this “help” stops. That is when you are sent a Cease and Desist email or letter. From that moment on your GOA is forbidden to talk to you on any subject whatsoever, and it is downhill skiing all the way.

So if you have not been sent a Cease and Desist then you should be okay for now and any purge will not affect you.
(Of course, there has been a problem of email communication from TFN. When they want to approve a new member of OIDG or a modsquad they seem to have problems getting a response. This was the case when I applied, and I know of many others who have had problems being approved. The main excuse is that it is owner’s fault for not responding… Well if they have problems communicating when trying to do something positive like modsquad or OIDG approvals, then I guess similar issues may face them when sending out Cease and Desist.)

July 19, 2007 Posted by | cease and desist, goa, OIDG, trademark | Leave a comment

Don’t you just love ’em!

Dear Owner of the Yahoo group “xxxx”,
I am writing on behalf of The Freecycle Network(TM) to notify you that your link has been removed from This was done at the request of the Group Outreach and Assistance Coordinator for your region because your group is not currently set up in accordance with the basic requirements for all approved Freecycle(TM) groups.
We have invested considerable time and resources in insuring that our organization is associated with only appropriately moderated, legal, and totally free services that have a common source of origin from The Freecycle Network(TM). This is why we only allow approved groups to associate with us in each community–to avoid any confusion among the public as who they are dealing with when the Freecycle name is used. Accordingly, please consider this your official notice to stop using the trademark-protected Freecycle name and logo, as well as any and all copyrighted texts, graphics, rules, guidelines, title, or its URL (Yahoo group name).
Please understand that our intent is not to stop your or your group from gifting or exchanging unwanted items with fellow users. Should you wish to remain independent of our organization, you are, or course, free to start your own gifting-based site under a name that is not confusingly similar to Freecycle.
For those of your members who are looking to join a local Freecycle group, you may simply refer them to where they can find all approved Freecycle groups.
Please let me know when either the group has been deleted or the above-listed Freecycle materials have been completely removed from your group. We appreciate your commitment to furthering the overall mission of promoting the local gift community in your area while keeping good stuff out of landfills.
Freecycle(TM) Trademark Team Coordinator

I reproduce the above with kind permission. While it is fair for any organisation to ensure that it operates effectively I do have a number of issues with it. Firstly there is an implication in the email that somehow a GOA-type person initiated this email. While always possible and likely in some cases it is obvious that when TFN starts doing a purge of groups (as it historically has done) then that can only come from the central team and to try to blame someone else smacks of disingenuity.

Secondly and more importantly one has to question how TFN goes about ensuring its groups are TFN compliant. I hear of so many stories of groups working so very hard to be TFN compliant and getting no help whatsoever that one has to ask about the processes involved.

A third point is this email is not actually trying to solve the compliance problem, it’s approach is “we do not want you”. Surely a healthy process would be to indicate what the actual non-conformance was and to ask that it would be remedied? I ask for ANY group that has had such a Cease and Desist email to provide any communication that lists points of non-compliance. Basically non-compliance in such instances often seems more like a “we don’t like you” attitude rather than any attempt to find a supportive solution.

Finally this email is often entitled as a “1st request”. I repeat this is, in TFN’s words a first request. Often when this kind of email arrives in your inbox it is the first you know of the problem. Wouldn’t it be nice if a “first” step was really a discussion around what any problems were and what kind of solutions might be possible, instead of saying “that’s it, you’re dead.”

I sincerely hope that you, as a group owner of what you think is a TFN compliant group do not get a “1st request.”

PS if you want to see a critique on TFN’s trademark claims then read chilling effects on “1st request”.

July 12, 2007 Posted by | cease and desist, chilling effects, freecycle, freecycling, goa, management, trademark | 2 Comments

The legal satyricon punches at freecycle vs oey

If anyone was surprised at TFN getting one upmanship over Tim Oey and the rest of the freecycling world who simply want to use the word freecycle whenever and wherever without feeling that they are going to have a Cease and Desist letter wrapped around a ton of bricks each day for the rest of their merry lives then check out the Legal Satyricon’s blog article Freecycle! Save the planet and abuse trademark law at the same time!

July 9, 2007 Posted by | freecycle, trademark | Leave a comment

Trademarks are us

TFN works hard to defend its trademarks. My guess is that at least half of its donations to date have gone on that project, what with Deron’s time, registration fees, legal fees etc etc.

One tool that TFN seems ready to use against anyone and everyone is what is called a Cease and Desist letter. In interesting analysis by Chilling Effects entitles Freeycle Rides Again was written in November 2005 showing that actually TFN might do well to increase that budget.

July 9, 2007 Posted by | cease and desist, chilling effects, freecycle, trademark | Leave a comment