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The Boys Scouts of America and Hacker Scouts logos.

The Boys Scouts of America and Hacker Scouts logos.

There are a lot of people in the maker community pretty upset with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) right now. There is an organization out of Oakland, Calif. called “Hacker Scouts,” (point of information: we at MAKE are friends with the folks who run it and indeed one of our employees is on their board) and they recently revealed that they’ve been in a legal tussle with the BSA for the last few months because the BSA doesn’t want them to use the term “scouts” in their name.

OK, one step back: yes, the BSA has trademark protection on the words “scouts” and “scouting.” It was granted to them by Congressional Charter in the 1920s and reinforced by the Supreme Court. There have been subsequent challenges to this over the years, which the courts have ruled against. Yes, the Girl Scouts have a similar charter, and so in a way share the words. If fact, you might be amused (or bemused) by some of the marks the BSA lays claim to:

  • Arrow of Light
  • Black Bull
  • Do Your Best
  • Space Derby
  • Venture

The problem arises in that when you are a corporation like the BSA (even if you are a non-profit), if you do not defend your trademarks vigorously, they will weaken in the eyes of the law, thus diminishing your brand and the value of your corporation. From a business mindset, that would be a bad thing. And yes, the BSA is a business – a billion-dollar business that licenses its logos and mottos for sale, and collects fees from its membership. That’s not to say they are exploiting anyone. They provide what many, many people see to be a valuable service. They have to raise money to provide that service, and while their balance sheet must total $0 profit at the end of each year, they have to run a tight ship to achieve their goals and keep their membership happy. They have to be a good business.

As an aside, I’d like to put two quotes next to each other for comparison:

[Scouting] encourages the relentless pursuit of knowledge through relevant hands-on activities, mentorship, community and family engagement, and the development of a strong moral character and leadership skills through our core values.

[Scouting builds] the future leaders of this country by combining educational activities and lifelong values with fun. [We know] that helping youth is a key to building a more conscientious, responsible, and productive society.

Without googling, I think most people would be hard-pressed to object with either purpose statement, or to know which organization which one came from.

The Hacker Scouts have, like a number of similar organizations over the years, stepped into legal trouble with the BSA. Calling yourself a scouting organization, especially one that works with kids, just can’t be done in the U.S. without the permission of the Boy Scouts. That’s not because the BSA are necessarily bad actors in this case; from a legal and business sense, they are doing exactly what they need to in order to protect their business. Unfortunately while it seems reasonable to argue that the words “scout” and “scouting” shouldn’t be under the trademark protection they are, the courts have disagreed as recently as 2008.

Are there any other options? Here are the ones we can think of:

  • Overturn the BSA’s charter: Getting the BSA’s charter broken has been tried, and failed. Indeed, with the number of former Boy Scouts serving in Congress, that’s not terribly surprising.
  • Don’t use scouting: Giving up on the “scouting” name would solve the problem entirely, but the Hacker Scouts (and the MakerScouts like them) have built successful followings based on these names, and it seems unreasonable that one group should be able to control what is at its heart an idea. Giving up and re-branding should be the last resort, and hopefully an unnecessary one.
  • Make a deal: from the reports, this is what the Hacker Scouts have been trying to do; come to some kind of licensing deal with the BSA to use the name, but be clear they aren’t part of the BSA. But the BSA has been intransigent. They’ve been down this road before, and succeeded. They are sticking to their guns, and being (in their perspective) stalwart and resolved in their duty. This seems like an uphill battle.

But instead of attacking the BSA for what are justifiably good business practices, why don’t we talk to them about the bigger picture? Why can’t the BSA treat this as not a legal or business issue, but a moral one?

This is about kids. This is about organizations that want to emulate Robert Baden-Powell’s goal of providing a framework for young people to develop character through learning self-sufficiency and making things themselves. This is about understanding there can be multiple paths to the same goal, and that there needs to be a variety of organizations to allow all kids to find the path that’s right for them.

This is about realizing that doing the best we can for our kids is more important than protecting a corporation’s branding.

Our challenge to the Boy Scouts of America is then to do what’s morally right here: work out a licensing framework for organizations that want to call themselves “scouts” that protects the BSA’s business interests while reinforcing the core goal of scouting, which is to help kids. The BSA has seen across-the-board declines in memberships recently (nearly 10 percent drop in registered youths in the last eight years while the overall population of kids has increased), and increasing the number of organizations in this space is just the kind of diversification that could ensure that more kids than ever come to value scouting, just not Scouting®. I guarantee that the good will this would engender towards their organization would be worth far more than what they think they’re protecting by fighting with those who have the very same goal.

Ken Denmead

Ken is the Grand Nagus of He’s a husband and father from the SF Bay Area, and has written three books filled with projects for geeky parents and kids to share.



  1. Not a fan of BSA says:

    Here is the catch. The BSA are NOT all inclusive. Once they decided to discriminate who could join they kind of negated any right to be the ‘One’ scouts. Perhaps now is the time to relieve them of their charter.

    1. Jerry Carter says:

      BSA voted to be more inclusive this spring, actually, allowing openly gay scouts. To my knowledge, though, they still do not admit androids, so your point remains valid.

      1. Not a fan of BSA says:

        How about counselors? Last I heard they still didn’t allow it. So say a gay father wanted to be a part of his kids adventure, he couldn’t. I’m straight none of it effects me, it effects people though in a way I think contradicts their beliefs they are supposed to be giving kids.

        1. Jeff Carter says:

          Yea too bad they succumbed to the rainbow warrior movement and went against their own oath of being “morally straight.” Just provided another Avenue for the moral decay of American youth.

          1. Chris says:


          2. BorgX says:

            They just changed from being bigoted against gays to being bigoted to fat people.

      2. The BSA will not admit atheists, who, presumably, aren’t all androids.

        1. Not a fan of BSA says:

          ty, went right over my head. Ok so it does affect me. So thats what it feels like. (sucks)

    2. Chris says:

      Really? We’re going to start the gay thing again? When you start a club, you can make it the most gay group ever. As far as the article is concerned; they could just have a “Z” at the end to make it “Hacker Scoutz”…. problem solved.

      1. Not a fan of BSA says:

        Allot more bigots posting on here than I expected. As stated if you could read, I’m straight. But if they make it illegal for others to start a similar group, and as you say ‘make it gay’ what i will call not being run by bigots, like yourself, then you CAN’T start your own group.

        Try being less of a bigot.

      2. I worked for a summer camp once that had a yearly Olympics. They received a cease-and-desist so changed it to Olympix. Problem solved.

    3. Mike says:

      Who are you to decide when a charter is revoked? The BSA has existed since 1910 and their charter with the trademark distinction is from the 1920s. Let’s revoke that charter for an organization that has been around for a year, if that?

  2. ka1axy says:

    While I understand your reasoning, Ken, I have to say that “Hacker Scouts” isn’t really in a very strong position, here. By using the term “Scouts”, in their name, they are making a reference to Scouting(r), whether they want to admit it or not. BSA has a right to defend their trademark, just as Xerox would, if I called my organization for recycling copy machines something like “Refurbished Xerox Machines”.

    Additionally, let’s face it, “Hacker Scouts” doesn’t really flow. The two words are dissonant. Hackers are techies, makers and urban, Scouts(r) are all about character and wilderness skills. Well, perhaps not only those characteristics, and there is some overlap, but something like “Hacker Makers” would work just as well, unless “Maker” is already trademarked (and I think it is, or someone claims it).

    Don’t blame the BSA for this. There are plenty of other areas where I’ll admit they’re in the wrong (their policy towards gays to start with), but I don’t think they’re out of line here. They shouldn’t have to make deals with any organization that wants to call themselves “scouts”. Hacker Scouts needs to rebrand themselves. And after all, it’s not what you call yourselves, it’s what you *do* that matters.

    1. Ken Denmead says:

      Oh, I don’t disagree with you that the Hacker Scouts are in a very weak position in this case. Untenable perhaps. But I think they made an honest mistake that many folks might – that scouting is about kids getting out and doing stuff, not about one organization with a nationalized mandate (a kind of mandate that the Congress has pretty much stopped handing out because of the controversies they generate). The BSA has every right to do what they’re doing. But why not diversify? Build a coalition of *Scouting organizations to appeal to kids of all interests? Right now, the BSA is shriking, not growing, and if organizations like the Hacker Scouts are succeeding, it’s because there are markets the BSA is not serving. This is a reasonable strategy for the BSA to see those markets served, and be seen as the heart of it all.

      1. wygk says:

        There is nothing bad about trademark law – it’s a legitimate need to allow businesses to protect their identifying marks. I advise ALL my clients (business and non-profit) to do a trademark search before choosing a name. Failing to do this is simple ignorance, and expecting BSA to make some sort of special provisions or give dispensation for their lack of foresight is completely antithetical to the maker credo as I understand it. To the hacker scouts: you screwed up. Learn from it, fix it, and get on with it.

      2. Dan says:

        > “But I think they made an honest mistake…”

        Yeah right, they have wanted to undermine that Christian group all along. Perhaps an alternative is needed for various reasons but there is no need to be deceitful about people’s motives. Guys if you are so “good”, so much better and more progressive, then just go and out shine them in every way, stop trying to start fights.

    2. I think that we should be looking at the bigger picture here which is that the Boy Scouts of America are laying claims to something that wan’t started nor is limited to the US. The idea of scouting was started by Baden-Powell, a British Army Officer. The World Organization of the Scout Movement headquarters is in Switzerland, not the US.

      There are various flavors of ‘scouts’ around the world including some that have special focuses such as Sea Scouts and Air Scouts so there is no reason that the special focus of Hacker Scouts can’t exist.

      1. Ian Lee says:

        Sea Scouts & Air Scouts are official members of the Scouting program that follow its charters & by-laws. If the Hacker Scouts want to talk to Scouting officials about becoming an official Scouting program then that would be an interesting avenue that I would support. However, they are not trying to become an official Scouting program. They are simply trying to benefit from name recognition that the Boy Scouts have worked tirelessly to build over the past 100 years. It’s their trademark and they absolutely should defend it.

    3. Jenna says:

      Scout is also a verb. Referring to ‘finder/spotting’ as in scouting for sports teams, trying to spot talent etc. It’s also now used as a noun. The talent/sport scout etc..

  3. km says:

    This is a great little article, thanks for it.

    I disagree with your position that it’s the right thing to do morally merely because “this is about kids.”

    It’s the children that make this whole thing an important moral issue, and the right thing to do “morally” is the very point of disagreement. The LGBT community thinks it’s immoral to take some of the positions the BSA has taken, and the BSA would argue that LGBT actions are immoral. And of course the Hacker Scouts or any other kind of “scouts” have their own moral compass. Each is doing what they believe to be best for the children – that’s what makes this a moral issue, and why the government is right to enforce the various groups’ rights to maintain their own version of morality. Each of us being free to live according to our own code within the framework of law – is a good thing. Even (arguably) an admirable thing.

    Makers and Hackers will face this a lot – sometimes with trademarks and copyrights and patents and all sorts of things. If the Hacker Scouts want to teach their kids about Making or Hacking – they should also teach them to respect the laws, even when the laws are just another challenge to be overcome.

    I’d advise the Hacker Scouts to solve their problem in a way that sets a good example for the kids. We have reached this kind of barrier – now what do we do? Spend your dues and time on fighting legal battles and giving the BSA a bad name? That’s easy to do, for sure.
    Or – do we simply out-smart them in some way, or exactly what do we do next that gets us back to our main objective? Find a CREATIVE solution, for goodness sake – that’s the whole fun of being a maker/hacker in the first place. And the more efficiently they can dispense with this “BS” – the better for everyone.

    1. Ken Denmead says:

      KM, great response. But I hesiate to agree overall. I really think the conflict in this case isn’t about the moral compass of each organization. I included the purpose statements to point out how each is coming from a very similar place. The conflict is about the quite base business concept of branding. I’m merely offering that the solution could be considered from a moral perspective; that by looking at both organizations’ larger purposes, they might find the common ground to reach a solution that protects their valuable brands while making sure the most kids are supported. I’d like to think the BSA could look big picture at this, and see the value of a compromise. But perhaps, as you suggest, the best thing the Hacker Scouts can do is set an example for creative responses to legal issues such as these. We shall see.

      1. km says:

        Thanks, Ken.
        I see this as a deeper issue than business or branding or morality, but a difference in the way people actually see their world. Churches and groups like BSA are often run by people who get deeply invested in the organization, and then it all becomes a matter of passion and power. The leadership of the BSA almost certainly will be power-hungry folks who will insist on their own way, even if it means the organization is diminished. It’s crazy, but that’s the way these people view their world, and why they’re at the top of such groups.

        And that’s why I love maker stuff so much. We are people who are (or can be) free from the need to run an organization and instead focus on creativity. It’s the kind of mindset that makes Wikipedia so interesting compared to Britannica, or any open-source stuff cool and different.

        My hope for any maker or hacker group is that we pass along this independent and creative spirit to the kids. If we run up against some power-hungry guys … let’s just learn how to improvise, overcome and adapt. Screw ‘em if they can’t take a joke. Why waste time trying to reform these monkeys, when it’s much easier and more productive to work around them and enjoy the detour?

        I know I’m preaching to the choir – and I’m sorry for being such a hog. But I really do love this community of makers and creators and I’d hate to see it bogged-down in corporate or legal nonsense. We can leave something much more valuable than that to the kids, if we refuse to play by the same old tired rules of having to fight over everything.

        Again, thanks for your article and for being patient with my rants.

  4. Why Not says:

    Maybe they should become a Venture unit in the BSA. Venture units typically form around a particular theme and Making seems like a great one!

  5. Mark L Evans says:

    Just reverse the o and the u Hacker Scuots, done!

    1. Ken Denmead says:

      Oh, we had a long, amusing conversation in the Make edit team about witty alternates. How about Hacker $c0uts?

      (Of course, l33t spelling is probably not enough of a change to satisfy a trademark court)

      1. kjunkins says:

        I think it would definitely be worthwhile to explore phonetically similar branding. It worked for SyFy (formerly SciFi channel). Identifying as “Skouts” makes the statement that you are non affiliated, and in fact not even necessarily pursuing the same mission.

        It’s one thing to start a burger chain called MacDonalds, but quite another to start a trucking company called MacDonalds. Similarly, it is one thing to have a youth organization centered around camping called “Scouts” and another organization (maybe not even directly youth related) centered around making/hacking/engineering called “Skouts”.

    2. km says:

      I love it! I don’t know trademark law, but I was also thinking about “Hacker Skowts.” Then, if possible, trademark & coin a new word: “Skowting.”

      But what would be really cool is walking the kids themselves through the issue, and let THEM come up with a solution and have fun doing so. Then call the local news outlets and show them that even kids (David) can defeat giants when properly motivated.

  6. Terence Tam says:

    Hacker Cadets.

    (With the unofficial motto of: “Like Scouts, but without discrimination”). That should alleviate any misunderstanding and confusion.

  7. I’d just go with the UK/Canadian version: Hacker Guides.

    1. Ken Denmead says:

      I’ve suggested “Hacker Knights”
      Then the younger kids could be “Hacker Squires”
      Then instead of troops, they have fiefs, and kids must address leaders as “my liege!”

  8. chuck says:

    This touches on something that’s been bugging me. We paid money for the ‘right’ to call our gathering of enthusiasts a ‘Maker Faire’. For our money we got some signage, a mention on the Make site and outside control of our ad copy and collateral. What if we held a Maker’s Fair or a Doer’s Faire and cut out the middle man? Would O’reilly do the ‘moral’ thing and let us be or would they defend their brand?

    1. Ken Denmead says:

      Not an unreasonable question, Chuck.

      Couple of thoughts:
      1. We aren’t under O’Reilly, we were spun off, and are Maker Media now. Not totally germaine, but trying to be accurate.
      2. In the case you outline, you’ve worked with us previously, and then you’re suggesting to do the same thing without us and use an extremely similar name without licensing. This is a somewhat different set of circumstances than the Hacker Scouts situation. We haven’t trademarked Maker, or Faire, so if you wanted to hold a Maker Festival, or a Hacker Faire, you’d probably be in the clear.

      We try very hard to be good citizens in the open source community, and the licensing fees we charge for Mini Maker Faires are determined on a progressive scale and in exchange for those fees the independent organizers get varying levels of support from our team that can include some significant things. I think the point of the Hacker Scouts case is that the BSA doesn’t do what we do in terms of offering a license, and we’re suggeting they consider trying it.

      1. Mike says:

        If that’s your goal, then I would echo “why not’s” suggestion above and suggest you consider becoming a venture unit within the BSA. Has that been considered or explored?

        1. Ken Denmead says:

          Would be interesting to understand how these Venture units work. I’m unfamiliar with them.

          1. Jon Largent says:

            Having grown up in the BSA and being a third generation Eagle Scout I can say that I agree Ken in your points. I think the moral thing would be for the BSA to work with the hacker scouts and come to a compromise. In regards to the venture crew idea, any group centered around a theme or activity can apply to be a venture crew it just has to have a charter organization. The only downside to being an official venture crew is age requirements. To join Boy Scouts you have to be 11 and age out at 18, with venturing you have to be 13 and age out at 21 and is open to both girls and boys. If you have questions ken feel free to message me or email me.

        2. shoshana says:

          Hacker Scouts wouldn’t fit as a venture unit within the Boy Scouts because the goals and philosophies are different. Hacker Scout guilds include both girls and boys, for one thing – by design, not by accident.

          1. jllargent says:

            Like I posted earlier venture crews are coed they aren’t just for boys and can actually do more things then regular scouts can.

  9. SB says:

    One other point that i don’t see mentioned here is that the Hacker Scouts clearly used the word scouts to their advantage to liken themselves to the Bou Scouts without their consent. How is it that the Maker Scouts are akin to Scouts? the Boy Scouts came to be when Baden Powell wrote a book on being a scout that had nothing to do with children. It was intended to be a manual for military personnel training to be a forward scout for their unit. Young boys and teachers discovered the book and bought it in droves, wanting to learn the skills in it, thus the youth created the demand and prompted him to rewrite it as a manual for teaching youth scouting skills and adding moral and life lessons to the program. WIle I live the idea of “Hacker Scouts” I was a Scout and so is my son now, I think the Boy Scouts are looking for more things of interest to modern kids, they are adding STEM based Merit Badges next year but I think a maker type badge might not be a bad thing. I really have to say though that a renaming of the Hacker scouts seems to be in order and may actually be a good thing for them to differentiate and modernize. The Bot Scouts can’t patent good values and moral teaching while learning skills that kids want to learn.One of the original names of the scouts was Boy Brigade (Though that will likely get you in trouble with another organization, (I do like the name “Hacker Brigade”

    1. Ken Denmead says:

      I truly think they used the “scout” name in a belief that it’s a generic term for kids getting out and doing stuff, learning self-sufficiency and leadership skills. I’d even suggest that most people who have not been in or closely around the BSA probably think that as well, kind of like Kleenex has become a generic word for facial tissue. It explains why there’s so much surprise and consternation from folks on the “outside.”

  10. Cliff52 says:

    The name is not as important as what you are trying to do. Organizing and educating young people is valuable and worthwhile endeavor. You picked a name and it didn’t work out – find another one. Just don’t drop your idea. Membership will not be a problem. Young people want to learn to do what you want to teach them.

  11. Kelly says:

    Out of all the possible things that a Maker youth organization could have called itself, why choose “Maker Scouts”? Does the organization have anything to do with ‘scouting’ in the non-capitalized definition of the word? Of course not. So the name Maker Scouts was chosen simply because it sounded a lot like Boy/Girl Scouts, reminded people of those organizations, and they wanted to leverage the good reputation of those organizations. Which is precisely the reason for which trademark law exists, and is precisely why the BSA needs to prevent others from using these trademarks.

    C’mon. Maker Scouts, while a great idea, has nothing to do with Scouting (uppercase), and nothing to do with scouting (lowercase). So pick a name that makes sense, and doesn’t infringe anyone’s legitimate trademark.

  12. Nick says:

    Take a cue from prince and become the hacker unpronounceable symbols formerly known as scouts.

    1. jonathan peterson says:

      I was thinking Hacker [REDACTED] myself

  13. abetusk says:

    How can you condemn the BSA in defending their trademark but support Arduino for defending theirs? For example, wasn’t there a big issue with smARtDUINO trying to piggy back off of the Arduino trademark? How is this fundamentally different?

    My feeling was that in the free and open hardware/software community there is a motto of “make how to build it open and free but protect the brand”, which amounts to making sure the trademark is clearly segmented from other organizations. While I don’t particularly like the BSA as an organization and I have a fondness for the HSA, it’s clear that the HSA are trying to piggy back off of the BSA trademark.

    Why should we expect the BSA to relinquish their trademark when we don’t hold ourselves in the community to the same standard?

    I want to be clear. My stance is that the HSA is clearly violating the BSA trademark and that the BSA has a legitimate claim to ask the HSA to not trade on the BSA name. In my mind, the best resolution would be for the HSA to distance themselves from the BSA by changing their name entirely (“The Young Hackers of America”, “The Young Engineers of America” or something). My bet is that the BSA will realize this is a marketing nightmare for them and they will eventually allow the HSA to keep their name, maybe with some settlement agreement, but this doesn’t make it right. It also has implications to how maker businesses operate in the future.

    I hate to be so blunt, but this smacks of nepotism to me and claiming to “make it about the kids” seems to me an underhanded way to shirk responsibility. The HSA is intimately involved with Make magazine and many people in the Maker movement are involved, either directly or indirectly, with the HSA. The guidelines we’ve set up as a community should apply to all of us equally, even when they are not convenient.

    1. Jim Thompson says:

      I don’t think your comparison is applicable. smARTDuino or whatever it is, is a technology similar to or built on top of or compatible with Arduino. Hacker Scouts only resembles the boy scouts in that it is a youth organization. Hacker Scouts is all inclusive (boys, girls, etc) and covers an area that the boy scouts does not (one may claim some overlap but I am involved with both programs and don’t see it). They are separate entities offering different services which is why my kids do both.

      1. abetusk says:

        To me, the core issue is the branding, or trademark. The core issue with the Arduino/smARtDUINO debate was one of trademark infringement, not one of copyright abuse (Arduino is completely open after all).

        Just like the Arduino/smARtDUINO issue, the BSA/HSA issue is fundamentally not about the content of the organizations, it’s about infringement of the trademark. The BSA is not claiming anything but infringement on their name.

        The BSA’s basic claim, as with all claims of trademark infringement, is that someone might get confused when hearing “Hacker Scouts of America” by thinking that the HSA is somehow affiliated with the BSA, when they are not.

        To me, the HSA is clearly infringing the trademark of the BSA. To see this, all you have to do is look at the term “scout”. This was a term that was much more common a century ago, when the BSA was initially formed. Any organization catering to youths with the word “scout” in it brings up connotations of the “Boy Scouts of America”.

        I would genuinely like to hear a reasonable argument for why the BSA’s claim against the HSA should be condemned but claims for other businesses, especially maker businesses like Aruidino, defending their trademarks should be supported.

        1. Jim Thompson says:

          Just want to clarify a point. As far as I know, the HSA does not exist. There is no Hacker Scouts of America. Yes I bet they would like to branch out to other countries and maybe they have but until then it is just Hacker Scouts. Maybe Hacker Scouts International? I wonder if BSA would sue an adult group who taught actual scouting?

    2. Ken Denmead says:

      Abetusk, was this a response to someone else’s comment? Because if it was a response to the piece itself, I think it’s likely you didn’t actually read it.

      The piece very clearly states that the BSA is acting entirely within it’s rights to protect a very clear trademark. No arguments there. They are a business, and they are protecting their brand in an entirely appropriate manner. Nothing in this article condemns them.

      The suggestion I make is that they should look at the bigger picture of what scouting should stand for, and consider some kind of licensing framework that allows other organizations to use a word that, for most people who have not been affiliated with the BSA consider a generic term. It would likely do the more good than they realize, and considering they’ve been shrinking for years, it might help them reach more people.

      1. abetusk says:

        I fear that my point wasn’t made very well. You are asking the BSA to allow their trademark to be used by making it into a moral issue about what’s best for the children. You are asking for there to the an exception to be made for the HSA, not because the HSA is in the right about their use of the name (you admit that the BSA has a potentially legitimate claim), but because the HSA follow the ethic of the BSA and cater to children.

        My point was that you are attempting to make an unreasonable exception. By making it an appeal to morality you are attempting to divert attention from the core debate, which is one of trademark infringement.

        My fear is that by claiming the issue should be resolved due to a moral issue that is separate from what I see as the fundamental issue, you could confuse future debate. Wouldn’t this set a bad precedent for future trademark infringement? Should I be allowed to call my board “Fooduino” without Arduino’s permission because I’m using it to educate children? Should I be allowed to produce a “Make: Leaflet” because I distribute to single mothers?

        You’re asking the BSA to take a moral high road when the HSA was in the wrong to begin with.

        The reason I focus on the trademark infringement issue, the one you say should be dismissed because the HSA is working for a good cause, is because the trademark issue is the fundamental issue, regardless of how good the HSA is as an organization. If you want others to take the moral high road, a good place to start is by taking the moral high road yourself.

        1. Ken Denmead says:

          Much clearer, very good, thanks!

          But I’d suggest that the parallels you’re drawing don’t quite apply. Arduino is a trademarked name of a company, and other than being a very rare given name, has no pre-existing meaning. Also, the folks at Arduino make this very important statement on the FAQ:

          “Note that while we don’t attempt to restrict uses of the “duino” suffix, its use causes the Italians on the team to cringe (apparently it sounds terrible); you might want to avoid it.”

          Also, also, from

          “[W]e would like to include works by many people as part of the official Arduino hardware. This could mean that we manufacture something you’ve designed, and share the revenue with you. Or that you manufacture it yourself and, in return, contribute to the project (with a licensing fee, by releasing your design and production files, by documenting and supporting the product, or some combination of these). These products will be featured on the main Arduino site, be supported by the Arduino software, and generally given the same backing as the hardware designed by the Arduino team (e.g. in distribution).”

          So, if the BSA were willing to work with other organizations the way Arduino does with other microcontroller desginers, the Hacker Scouts might well be just fine.

          However, I understand your point. I will say I’m not asking for an exception for JUST the Hacker Scouts (not HSA), but for the Maker Scouts, the defunct Youthscouts, and more. But I do agree, this is 100% about trademark law. I just wish it could be about more than that. And if that’s were we disagree, I’m okay with that.

    3. Nope, it’s incorrect to say that we are intimately involved with Hacker Scouts (if that’s what you mean by “HSA”, which has no “A.”) I’m the HS advisory board member on the Maker Media staff (I appreciate that they invited me to join, given my focus on making and education.) But I didn’t even know Ken was writing this piece until after it was published. (!) Hacker Scouts and their members have exhibited at Maker Faire (as you’d expect from an organization that makes.) Definitely no nepotism here, unless you think of the thousands of Makers who have written for Make and exhibited at our faires as one truly gigantic “family.”

      I liked that Jim Thompson posted some generic definitions. I’ve been thinking too of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird: “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” What would she and Atticus think is the right thing to do here?

      1. abetusk says:

        I’m sorry, Michelle, but that involvement was exactly what I was trying to point out. You are involved in the same organization as Ken and this makes objectivity difficult. The Hacker Scouts and Make magazine have a symbiotic relationship, where the success of one helps with the success of the other. Claiming objectivity when it’s clear there is a vested interest in resolving the issue in the Hacker Scout’s favor is misleading.

        What I was trying to suggest is that a better indicator of which side of an ethical issue the editors of Make come down on is better predicted by how it affects the organization they work for and which organizations their friends are involved in than what the proper moral stance is. I understand that objectivity is near impossible to attain, but it’s something that should be striven for instead of discarded when inconvenient.

        I love Make magazine and I think the Hacker Scouts are doing something really great. Thank you for putting your time and effort into an organization that is doing something so wonderful. The reason why I feel the need to be so vocal is that I believe pieces like this one do considerable damage to the community.

        In a space of free ideas, my understanding of the guiding principle is “open the copyright, protect the trademark”. The trademark is the identify, whether it be an individual or a corporate entity. This identity is how consumers know to differentiate between products or organizations and how producers of content get recognition.

        By claiming that an exception should be made because children are involved only serves to obfuscate the underlying issue, which is one of trademark. The BSA does not want their name being used with the Hacker Scouts. Though it’s unfortunate a settlement couldn’t be reached, that’s the choice of the BSA. The Hacker Scouts traded on the name of the BSA. We’re all learning as we go along and mistakes happen so it’s understandable. Instead of calling the morality of the BSA into question, the resolution should be to grit your teeth and change the Hacker Scout’s name.

        Again, I’m worried about setting a precedent for future maker businesses. My worry is that by claiming that trademark violations are warranted when the organization that violates the trademark is doing it “for a good cause” will open the floodgates for abuse and will cloud the underlying guiding principle.

        The Hacker Scouts has not been falsely accused of assault. They’ve been justifiably accused of trademark infringement. The moral thing to do is to respect the organization that has the original trademark and move on. It is unethical to parade your cause for the children as a means to guilt an organization into validating your trademark infringement.

  14. Jim Thompson says:

    As a former Boy Scout and a father of current Boy Scouts, I would have to cordially disagree with the other Boy Scouts who believe they own the term scout.
    If someone wants to provide something that is cutting edge or new and wants their children to be a part of said activity then I believe that scouting is an acceptable term. Hacker Scouts are being sent out to explore new things but Hacker Explorers doesn’t have the same ring. I frankly don’t understand Boy Scouts need to “protect” the term. I would love my kids to do both and don’t have any misconception that they are related. But hey I got ticked off that the World Wrestling Federation WWF changed their name because they shared the same letters as the World Wildlife Federation so I guess I have no legs to stand on.

    Scout Verb
    make a search for someone or something in various places.
    “I was sent to scout around for a place to park the camper”
    synonyms: search, look, hunt, ferret about/around, root around/about More
    “I scouted around for some logs”
    (esp. of a soldier) go ahead of a main force so as to gather information about an enemy’s position, strength, or movements.
    explore or examine (a place or area of business) so as to gather information about it.
    “American companies are keen to scout out business opportunities”
    synonyms: reconnoiter, explore, make a reconnaissance of, inspect, investigate, spy out, survey; More
    examine, scan, study, observe;
    informalcheck out, case
    “a night patrol was sent to scout out the area”
    look for suitably talented people for recruitment to one’s own organization or sports team.
    “Johnson has been scouting for the Pirates”

    1. Ken Denmead says:

      Quite reasonable points, Jim.

      Situations like this really make me wish we could declare the entire dictionary to be in the public domain. Companies should only be able to trademark a word that they made up (Yelp, sure, Yahoo! no). I’d love to get rid of trademarked mottos – I think it’s rediculous that the BSA owns the phrase “Do your best.”

      Which is not to say I haven’t filed for trademarks myself. That just how you have to do business within the current structure.

      1. Trav says:

        I agree with Jim. When I think if Scouting, I think of looking for something (military or Native American scout patrols) not the BSA. I think the reason we don’t hear the term more is because it is trademarked. I can understand them trademarking the phrase “Boy Scouts” or “Boy Scouts of America” The word scout should never have been trademarked in the first place as it is as generic as boy.

  15. Mike Ditchen says:

    If it wasn’t for the good reputation of the BSA, even with the decline in membership, one of the largest youth organizations, the Hackers would have chosen a name like Hacker Heroes or Hacker Guides. No, the hacker group saw the name Scout and all the goodwill implied in it and chose to try to steal some of that goodwill. There very effort is a textbook example of why trademark law exists.

    1. Jim Thompson says:

      I doubt they “stole” the name with such malice as you infer. They may have intended to easily distinguish their organization as a children’s organization due to the obvious confusion that might arise due to many hacker spaces already existing (Not for Youth). I don’t know what their intent was but having met a few of the organizers I doubt they were thinking of boy scouts as an example or model at all.

  16. jamesabarton says:

    Realize, despite EITHER organization possibly changing their name, or having their charter taken away, both organizations will be and do the same things, REGARDLESS. So what is all this fuss about anyways. If the BSA filed a charter long ago, It belongs to them. Don’t fight it, you WILL lose. However, changing Hacker Scouts to something that doesn’t identify BSA will undoubtedly cause this whole mess to cease, and ultimately move the world to more important things to deal with. I personally am in favor of Hacker Scouts discussing with the BSA to possibly become an extent of the BSA. As an Eagle Scout, I believe it would be another fun branch of scouting. But it doesn’t need to identify with the name “scouts” to show children a good hearted organization focused on fun.

    1. Mike Ditchen says:

      The problem is the concept of hacking. Is it a good thing? Sometimes. Is it a bad thing? Sometimes. The concept of hacking in many people’s minds seems a direct violation of the Scout Law……”A Scout is Trustworthy…..” Most activities associated with hacking are legally questionable. That doesn’t reflect the values of BSA.

  17. shoshana says:

    Hi Ken,

    I like your poll but I have to point out that the answers aren’t exclusive. For example, I might be of the opinion that the HackerScouts made an honest mistake and ALSO of the opinion that the BSA’s congressional charter is too broad and should be fought, but I can’t vote for both. But thanks for the poll! Interested in seeing the results.

  18. Holly says:

    When I first read the name “Hacker Scouts,” I assumed that the group was a part of the BSA because of the use of the word “Scouts.”
    Your average non–techie person equates the word “Hacker” with people who will try to steal their identities or infect their computers with viruses.
    I can see where Scouting would object to having their program associated with “Hacking.” If I were in their position, I would probably feel the same way.

    1. Mike Ditchen says:

      That is exactly why this is a violation of trademark. The fundamental tests in a trademark case are prior use (no one is questioning that) and the likelihood of confusion. If the average person is likely to question why BSA is associated with this hacker group, then this group has violated trademark. To question why BSA doesn’t just give away their trademark, please explain why you don’t also advocate Apple, Coca-Cola or Linux doing the same?

  19. Carfin33 says:

    As a Scottish Explorer Scout, i think you can’t just trademark a non-brand word or phrase. Like, Coca Cola is a trademark but it would be illogical to trademark “Carbonated Soft Drink”. Also how can they trademark “Scouts” or “Scouting” when Scouting started in the UK. The BSA cant dictate how other clubs are called. That wouldn’t be fair.

  20. David Lynch says:

    I’m disappointed in the entire premise of the Maker editorial on this topic. It sets a negative tone by making the BSA the bad guy and waving the “morality flag” at them undeservedly, demanding they give legal ground because a new-comer organization has seen fit to encroach upon the 100+ year history of one of the most morally conscious youth organizations on the planet.

    It seems an excellent opportunity is being missed in this situation because of what appears to be an overly litigious mindset, or perhaps because there is some innate dislike of the BSA in play that causes many here to demonize the Boy Scouts simply because it is protecting its brand.

    The BSA is a “maker” organization at its roots. There seems to be a perfect “fit” between Hacker Scouts and the BSA. In fact, were it presented correctly to the BSA I’d imagine they’d recognize that Hacker Scouts could be a golden opportunity to expand membership in the BSA at a time when our ailing society seems to be lacking the values and skills the BSA and Hacker Scouts both promote. I’d suggest that rather than using this as yet another way to beat up on the BSA it should instead be used as a way to join ranks for the greater good so that two like-minded organizations can positively affect a much larger percentage of the U.S youth who are in grave need of this sort of activity.

    That should not be done, however, by demanding the BSA give up any portion of the very identity it has worked to maintain for over 100 years. This is a situation where the new-comer organization needs to assimilate into the BSA or become some new extension of the BSA but still under the charter of the BSA.

    If instead the goal of Hacker Scouts is to compete with the BSA, then it doesn’t have a leg to stand on when it chooses to take on the moniker of the BSA and use the word “scout”, which is as BSA-like of a word as there is. Good luck in court with that argument.

  21. Ed Palmer says:

    “I think that we should be looking at the bigger picture here which is that the Boy Scouts of America are laying claims to something that wan’t started nor is limited to the US. The idea of scouting was started by Baden-Powell, a British Army Officer. The World Organization of the Scout Movement headquarters is in Switzerland, not the US.”

    Baden-Powell formally granted the BSA the rights to Scouting in the US. The BSA and GSUSA share the rights to “Scouting” and similar terms in the context of a youth organization.

    The Scout Association in the UK had a split in 1970 and the Baden-Powell Scouts Association was formed. When the BPSA was started in Canada, Scouts Canada litigated and the BPSA changed their name to the Baden-Powell Service Association. When the BPSA started to expand into the US, they used Baden-Powell Service Association in order to prevent conflict with the BSA and GSUSA.

    There are two new organizations being formed in reaction to the BSA accepting gay Scouts. The Catholics are starting the Scouts of Saint George, although their forums note that using the term Scout is going to be a problem. The folks at will announce their name in two weeks.

  22. Kevin Bates says:

    f**k licensing to the BSA. giving money to a religious hate group? hell no.
    (An ex-Scout who was no longer welcome)

  23. it’s simple, we dis-ban any formal Hacker Scouts dase, and run it as pop up. There are a bunch of groups running hackathons almost one every weekend. Do hacker scouts as a one weekend monthly Hackathon project. I say we start one of those annoy petitions or white house petitions. I think if we take it to the public we might win.

    1. a person, ship, or aircraft sent out to gain information

    1. Mike Ditchen says:

      The issue that many posters ignore is the use of the word scout in combination with a group that is youth based. The two words together form the trademark. The word boy not the word scout individually are trademarked. The two together are. The Boy Scouts together describes a group. BSA has several branches including Cub Scouts, Sea Scouts, Explorer Scouts, Venturing Scouts and Boy Scouts. This group could easily be confused as a part of BSA. That confusion is why this group has willfully violated BSA trademark. BSA is only trying to protect their intellectual property. This groups goals would really fit in well with an Explorer Scouting group. I doubt if many of the hacker supporters would freely let me steal from you but that is what you’re asking BSA to do.

      1. Ed Palmer says:

        To clarify a bit, the BSA youth programs:

        Boy Scouts of America
        - Cub Scouting (Cub Scouts)
        - Boy Scouting (Boy Scouts)
        Varsity Scouting (Varsity Scouts)
        - Venturing (Venturers)
        Sea Scouting (Sea Scouts)

        - Learning for Life (non Scouting educational subsidiary)
        Exploring (Explorers) non Scouting career-oriented youth

  24. shoshana says:

    Hacker Scouts have posted an update, essentially just the letter they’ve sent to BSA following up on the Boy Scouts’ offer to reach an amicable agreement.