Congress Gave Boy Scouts Special Law To Let Them Be Obnoxious Trademark Bullies

from the and-they're-using-it dept

There’s a very cool group out there called the Hacker Scouts, which was started last year, trying to get kids interested in cool hacking stuff:

Hacker Scouts is a national non profit organization, founded in the Fall of 2012 in Oakland CA, that focuses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) education, skill building and community engagement with the aspiration to help our children develop skills in the areas they are truly interested in, abilities that would allow them to dream big and create big. A variety of experts and mentors from the community ensure a well rounded and high level of attention and skill building for all ages through accessible programs that meet the different needs of our young makers. Hacker Scouts provides open source material and a support program for Hacker Scout programs globally.

Awesome, right? Definitely the kind of thing that should be encouraged. But, then the Boy Scouts of America went ballistic and threatened the Hacker Scouts with trademark infringement claims:

For the past several months we have been dealing with an issue that we now feel is at a point where it is important to let you know what is going on. A few months ago, we received a Cease and Desist letter from the Boy Scouts of America when we tried to trademark our name. Through various letters, we have tried to quietly come to a compromise, but the BSA position is clear: change our name or they will take us to court.

This is a difficult situation for us. We believe in our name and our right to use the word “scouts”. The BSA’s main argument is that they have a constitutional charter that they interpret to mean they have the right to use and trademark any word they choose. We disagree. We believe the charter itself may be unconstitutional, and that “scouts” is a world-wide connotation for a youth organization that existed before them and will exist long after them. We have also tried to be very clear in our message that we are not affiliated with the Boy Scouts nor are we trying to replace them. We do not offer the same experience, nor do we have a similar model as they do. We did not base our organization on them.

So, apparently, the Boy Scouts are trademark bullies. There’s no likelihood of confusion here, and the idea of dilution based on the use of the common word “scouts”? Seems ridiculous.

Except… lawyer Ron Coleman dug into things a bit and discovered that Congress, stunningly, has actually passed a special law just for the Boy Scouts that allows them to be trademark bullies. No joke. It’s 36 USC 30905, which is a part of 36 USC 309, which is a law just for the Boy Scouts of America. In 30905, the Boy Scouts appear to be given full “exclusive right” to “emblems, badges, descriptive or designating marks, and words or phrases the corporation adopts.” This goes way, way beyond what traditional trademark law allows, and the Boy Scouts appear to be using it to their trademark bullying advantage.

In fact, Coleman cites a case, Wrenn v. BSA from 2008, in which the court flat out said:

BSA need not demonstrate the likelihood of confusion because it has been granted special protection by Congressional charter

So, there you go. Stunningly, and ridiculously, the US government has given the Boy Scouts of America free reign to be obnoxious trademark bullies, threatening and going after anyone who uses “scouts” even if there’s no likelihood of confusion at all.

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Companies: boy scouts of america, hacker scouts

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Comments on “Congress Gave Boy Scouts Special Law To Let Them Be Obnoxious Trademark Bullies”

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Anonymous Coward says:


Was expecting a mod to reply to this.

Anonymous Coward says:


Why? It was a spam filter. What did you post before that could have been seen as spam by the system?

Arthur Moore (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Wow. What a bunch of entitled little shits they are. Why do people allow their kids to join that organisation, given what I’ve seen from my (completely non-US) spot? Then again, given that they seem to be run by a group that favours conformity over all else, probably shouldn’t be surprised.

Because most local groups are fine. It’s only when you get to the upper levels that problems really start to become apparent. You have a vocal minority who are huge douchebags, but most people in the organizations just don’t care.

Of course, that might also be selection bias. Scouting is popular in rural American communities. These are typically areas that have a high percentage of Christians.

The fun starts when being an Eagle Scout is equated with leadership skills. In many ways it’s true. Being an Eagle Scout takes time, dedication, and at least some leadership abilities. This results in many men in leadership roles being Eagle Scouts.

Keep in mind that the cut off age to become an eagle scout is 18. That means these men who are now leaders probably did not deal too much with Boy Scout internal politics while they were in the organization. Combine this with Rosy Retrospection and you have politicians who give favors to an organization that they remember fondly from their childhood.

Of course, all this is supposition. I have no facts to back it up. So please, feel free to draw your own conclusions.

Matt (profile) says:

Re: Boy Scouts of America

I myself am a Boy Scout, recently earned rank of Life Scout, and have been working on my Eagle Scout. Believe me, I am just as bothered by this as anyone else. Whoever the BSA figure-heads/legal representatives are that advised and approved of this are not true to what a Boy Scout is. Being a Boy Scout is the process of becoming a man, a good man with good morals.

This “Hacker Scouts” non profit organization appears to be about morals and life skills just as the Boy Scouts. A Boy Scout serves his community and country in the broad spectrum. From these trademark threats to this group, as well as other disputes including homosexual orientation being a barrier from Boy Scouts, there is clearly corruption in the BSA’s leadership representatives in need of change. It’s not the Boy Scouts that are the “little shits”, but the hierarchy leaders that oversee all the Councils and Troops.

Internet Zen Master (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Indeed. I do believe most laws fall under the category of “protectionist”, and have been encouraged/discouraged at various times in the US’ history. But they’re still constitutional.

However, the validity of this particular law granting the BSA special protection by Congressional Charter seems… questionable, to say the least.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Well, I never read the entirety of the document so I’ll accept your criticism. You see that World Cup Law they enacted here just for the event is already being considered unconstitutional even though the Govt is cheerfully ignoring the fact and I automatically thought it was valid in the US too. But if laws can be approved to benefit a private entity giving it unfair privileges and your Constitution allows such absurd then this is one fail point in it.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is completely typical for the boy scouts

They’re homophobic, xenophobic, racist, misogynistic assholes. The entire organization is corrupt to the bone AND, on top of that, they’re busy destroying the environment down in West Virginia.

It would be wonderful if someone could win a victory in court that would completely destroy the organization.

Mr. Smarta** (profile) says:


Yeah, I’m sure it’s all the Boy Scouts’ fault. Those little kids are the ones running the entire trademark lawsuit and are the ones lawyering up. Not the adult administration that run the show, obviously. They just stand there. They’re not the ones doing it. Instead of saying “The boy scouts are entitled little sh*ts”, how about saying “The *leaders* of the Boy Scouts are doing it all!”? The kids are just there to learn. Try going after the administration of the Boy Scouts of America and leave the actual boy scouts out of it.

I don’t agree with their claim to everything “scout”, but I seriously doubt that’s the kids’ fault.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Seriously?

Well I’d have to agree with that for the most part. But I think that if the boy scouts them selves have made claims to the words scouts or scouting and have the right to trade mark it then the “hacker scouts” need to be finding a new name to trademark. The military and any other relative thing outside of the economy: (i.e. scouts in the sense of the military sent scouts forward to look at an area.) can make the claims because the boy scouts are using it for a marketing purpose for one and also because it is a highly recognizable organization. I have never heard of hacker scouts until I came across this. If it wasn’t recognizable then I just might have to agree. I’m sorry for the predicament that your organization is under going, but you should seriously consider backing down.

Anonymous Coward says:

i could be wrong here, but i heard an ugly rumour going round that Congress were actually going to do something right instead of doing their usual trick and making a complete and utter fuck up of things from the get-go that almost always comes back and bites them hard in the arse! yet again though, it happens to be to do with something connected to copyright and trademark laws. it’s about time that role was taken completely away from them and put into the hands of people who know what the hell they are doing!!

out_of_the_blue says:

"free reign" ... Sheesh. From the reins of a horse, kids.

Where one can read the new Techdirt motto: “The confusion has become so complete it’s beyond correction.”

But it’ll always be a howler.

ANYHOO, how is this any different in principle from laws explicitly authorizing baseball and football monopolies? Actual monopolies! But you don’t complain about your sports teams getting gov’t favors, do you? Don’t complain about direct gov’t subsidies for sports stadiums, do you? Those are FAR WORSE because aren’t at all civic organizations, they’re for-profit businesses owned by millionaires!

But anything even vaguely protecting trademark, Mike is automatically against.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: "free reign" ... Sheesh. From the reins of a horse, kids.

Ok, even though you are once again just making stuff up in order to have something to attack everyone here with, I’ll bite:

is this any different in principle from laws explicitly authorizing baseball and football monopolies?

Nope, it’s not different at all. And I, for one, have complained about the sports thing on more than one occasion here.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: "free reign" ... Sheesh. From the reins of a horse, kids.

As usual, the crazy cat copyright lady has a grain of truth mixed in with the wankery and insults. The correct usage is “free rein,” and for the same reasons as she’s given.

We’d all have a lot more respect for Cathy if she’d stop talking about Mike as if she fantasizes about him wearing a leather studded gimp suit with a ball gag in his mouth. It’s a really creepy play for attention and it’s best not to feed it.

MikeC (profile) says:

Scouts -- I can see this one

I agree the law seems far reaching, I would not be in favor of it. However I am an eagle scout and both my sons are eagle scouts. The organization is, as with all such entities , often a contradiction in itself.

I strongly disagree with Mike M. on this one. I can easily see their problem with “Hacker Scouts”. They have as an objective to get young folks involved in STEAM activities – a goal I fully support.

But we have Venture Scouts, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and other organizations that are a offshoot of BSA and GSA. I can see a likelihood for confusion. That and the negative conotation of “Hacker” in today’s society. I can see the problem BSA has.

I sure most of the misguided commentators here never had an experience with scouts, like my troop, who put in over 2500 volunteer hours last year along for 40 boys & adults. We have had some bad days too, hopefully those weren’t the only ones folks remember. Remember to be an Eagle Scout you will put in 100’s of hours of community service over you scouting career.

In my 18 years as a scout leader and a lifetime almost as scouting member I can assure you are there are a lot of varying viewpoints, within scouts, on a lot hot-button topics – but the majority of us just want to raise well rounded sons who respect and appreciate the 12 scout laws, embrace community service, lead by example, etc.

But then again the troglodytes who only hate – can’t see the good at the local level. They watch the talking heads who spin any bitch for ratings points.

That is why scouts are controversial. We teach the boys think about the impact of their actions and how they are viewed by society. The national groups have their agenda, those of us at the local level, who don’t make a living spouting rhetoric, we just want what is best for our sons.

By the way — for those ‘baiters who will bring up sexual orientation — I have no problem with anyone in scouts, it’s not my business. If you live the scout life, you understand that assholes come in all shapes, sizes, race, sexual orientation and even post on on-line blogs. You learn to lead and tolerate with a calm head and don’t let them get to you. (mostly)

Mike C

(maybe not the real Michael but surely fixed in reality)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Scouts -- I can see this one

Thanks Mike – continue your great work.
For everyone else – based in fact:
Of any one hundred boys who become Scouts, it must be confessed that thirty will drop out in their first year. Perhaps this may be regarded as a failure, but later in life, all of these will remember that they had been in Scouting and will speak well of the program.

Of the one hundred, only rarely will one ever appear before a juvenile court judge. Twelve of the one hundred will be from families that belong to no church. Through Scouting, these twelve and many of their families will be brought into contact with a church and will continue to be active all their lives. Six of the one hundred will become pastors.

Each of the one hundred will learn something from Scouting, and all will develop hobbies that will add interest throughout the rest of their lives. Approximately one-half will serve in the military, and in varying degrees, profit from their Scout training. At least one will use it to save another person?s life, and many may credit it for saving their own.

Four of the one hundred will reach Eagle rank, and at least one will later say that he valued his Eagle above his college degree. Many will find their future vocation through merit badge work and Scouting contacts. Seventeen of the one hundred boys will become adult leaders and will give leadership to thousands of additional boys.

One in four boys in America will become Scouts, but it is interesting to know that of the leaders of this nation in business, religion and politics, three out of four were Scouts.

This story will never end. Like the ?Golden Pebble? of service dropped into the human sea, it will continue to radiate in ever-widening circles, influencing the characters of men through unending time.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Scouts -- I can see this one

Actually, based upon my own experiences, I will not speak well of the program. I was in for just under a year, missing my last two meetings before membership renewal because of the pointlessness of it all. In the time I was in, the only thing we did was fund raising. None of the funds were used locally, and we did nothing but meet in a church basement to spin rope and tell tall stories. My brother and I represented our entire club at the local Klondike Derby when those that had been in for years should have been taking part. Your story is, in my experience, the anomaly, not the standard.

Internet Zen Master (profile) says:

Re: Scouts -- I can see this one

Actually several of the guys I knew through high-school became Eagle Scouts.

While I do see your point about the negative connotation (incorrectly) associated with the term hackers (the bad ones are known as ‘crackers’ damn it!), it could potentially cause confusion.

However, this exemption is still far too broad to be reasonable, and the BSA should have it yanked out from underneath it(in my opinion, anyway). I’m sure that the Boy Scouts of America will be fine without it.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Scouts -- I can see this one

I sure most of the misguided commentators here never had an experience with scouts, like my troop, who put in over 2500 volunteer hours last year along for 40 boys & adults.

Not sure if I’m in the “misguided” camp or not, but I was also an Eagle scout in an active troop like yours. I’m not sure why that would have any bearing on whether or not this action by the BSA is trademark bullying.

MikeC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Scouts -- I can see this one

Actually in this case I don’t see at bullying – not that I haven’t seen BSA bully and whine in many ways including trademarks and I have to admit I am against the law highlighted in this story. In this case though I can see the BSA point of view.

The ‘baiters and troller’s hammering on scouts was the direction of the idea folks might have had a bad experiences with scouts. I’ve seen a lot boys drop out or never go above 1st class. That is our goal in the troop, everyone makes it to first class – just for the skill sets – otherwise it’s up to them. If the just want to enjoy scouts, that’s fine, if they want to progress, that is hoped for.

Mike C.

slick8086 says:

Re: Scouts -- I can see this one

But we have Venture Scouts, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and other organizations that are a offshoot of BSA and GSA. I can see a likelihood for confusion.

What damage could arise from this confusion?

The point of a trademark is to protect customers from being tricked into buying a copycat. Are you suggesting that the Hacker Scouts are trying to convince people that they are an off shoot of BSA or GSA?

By the way — for those ‘baiters who will bring up sexual orientation — I have no problem with anyone in scouts,

Then why do you tolerate bigoted policies with the organization?

MikeC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Scouts -- I can see this one

I don’t tolerate policy’s I don’t like, I deal with them. I do have the power to change them carte blanche, I can’t decree and banish them. I can only deal with the world, attempt to influence change, which I have done throughout. I don’t whine, I don’t posture, I act and I have acted on a continual basis.

The world ain’t fair! I tell that to my scouts all the time. You can be a soapboxer, tell everyone else how to run their life or you can quietly run your own, be an agent for improvement.

If more people would spend more time getting involved and working from the inside and less time complaining, we could get a lot more progress. Odd that is just what we teach our scouts to do, not push from the outside but lead. That is how to affect change.

If you find the policies so infuriating, why haven’t you joined scouting, been a mentor, worked to improve young men’s futures while working for change. Instead of just complaining about how backward you think BSA policies are.

I feel I can be much more effective on a child by child, adult by adult basis than all the grandstanding I see every day. Look how far scouting has come in just last 10 years, accepting of more. We are working with an organization steeped in tradition. It’s hard to move a mountain, but it does not matter what you want to accomplish, it’s still one shovel full at a time to get it done. Pick up a shovel and help, don’t just complain the mountain isn’t coming to you.

Remember, as I tell my scouts, – “Impossible is not a fact. It is an opinion” -Muhammad Ali.

Mike C

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Scouts -- I can see this one

Yeah… you know, when you still associate with the organization and buy their crap and stand with them…

You stand with them, including the intolerance. Including the theism. Including the homophobia. These will inform the values of your children.

In a prior age one might argue that the BSA was a community organization, but now it’s a corporation and it’s behaving with the same antisocial profit-over-all policy that other corporations ultimately take.

And whether you like it or not, this informs the education of your scout-indoctrinated offspring.

You could drop the scout franchise and form your own community group. But I suspect you like the shiny badges and the jamborees.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“protecting your name and brand” FROM WHAT?

From the horrible crawling faceless evil that’s an organization trying to teach kids something?

Please. Spare me. There is absolutely no threat of any kind to the BSA here. They’re just being bullies because, like ALL bullies, they’re cowards at heart. They could have just ignored this and dealt with their own problems (which are massive, by the way). Nobody would have ever noticed, nobody would have ever cared. (Heck, some people would probably have given the BSA credit for the good work done by the Hacker Scouts.) But no, the weaklings, the pissants, the whining cowards at the BSA had to lawyer up and respond to a non-existent “threat”.

The stink of their fear reeks across the country.

MikeVx (profile) says:

One fast way for this to go south...

If they file a complaint against Sailor Moon projects for the use of “Sailor Scouts”.

I don’t think there’s enough legal power in the world to protect the BSA from a continent or three of pissed-off anime fans.

Some people might think I’m kidding, but the fastest growth in genre conventions right now is in Anime, and a few conventions making a policy of “if the BSA has been there, we won’t be” could limit the BSAs activities exclusively to forests and campsites, as the hotels don’t want to be on the black lists of single events that need 3 or more hotels plus a convention center for what constitutes a “sparsely-attended” event.

James Walter Taylor (profile) says:

Title 36 privelege

Similar trademark rights are given to all title 36 corporations, to differing extents. The BSA, the American Legion, American Heart Association, the Olympic Committee, Big Brothers, etc. – about 115 groups in all have those special privileges.

More than that, each has special relationships and privileges written into the law, here and there. BSA, for instance, has special access to schools affected by “The No Child Left Behind Act”.

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