An exchange of words with (TFN)

I figured that my installing a tip jar and announcing it to the group this past Tuesday noon would receive some blowback, but it appears I’m now a target for For years I’ve run an independent group. All they do is provide a link to our group from their website (much like an aggregate website does), and that’s it. They have no control over our site whatsoever. Our rules are modified to our community. Now they are using my tip jar as an opportune moment to change that. Could it be that their aggressive stance is directly related to them losing a 5 year court case this past November in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to FreecycleSunnyvale, in which the court said:

“The Freecycle Network  (an organization focused on the free recycling and reusing of goods) had lost control of its trademark FREECYCLE due to naked licensing.”

This is not common knowledge, and has done its best to not call attention to it. If you want to know more, download the court’s opinion at and/or read summaries at (short version), (long version)

That’s the background on the court case. Back to the tip jar… Tues evening I received the below email:

Good Evening Nicole 🙂
Nicole, one of the founding tenets of Freecycle was that everything on the Freecycle site was “Free”.
We set up Freecycle to apply this tenet to our volunteers. Freecycle is and has always been free in terms of compensation. All our “Owners and Mods” in effect, donate their time and energy to the operation of their group and to Freecycle on the whole.
We believe all our “Volunteers” are as passionate in our believe in recycling as the original founders.
It has been brought to our attention that you have set up a link on your group to solicit donations to help operate the Marin County group.
This is in violation of the founding tenet as stated above.
We believe it would be in the best interests of the group if you resigned as owner of the Marin County Freecycle group.
Please feel free to email me with any questions you might have.

California GOA

I haven’t asked Joel any questions. I don’t think he’s interested in answering them. I can only interpret their note to me less than 6 hours after my tip jar manifesto, as an attack on my character and an excuse to try and exercise control over our group. My email reply to them today was:

Joel — Your email indicates an assumption that you control and manage MarinFreecycle.
You don’t.
MarinFreecycle and MarinCountyFreecycle, have been independently owned, operated, managed, and moderated by me since July 2004. The extent of your involvement has been providing a link from your site, which you can remove if you choose to. I hope it won’t come to that, and that we can work things out in an amicable way.
If you would like to continue discussion about this subject at my blog, you are welcome to. I don’t mind the light shining on it. In fact, I think that members might be interested in this exchange.

I wanted to inform group members of this issue,  so I am posting it here and as an Admin note at our YG website. I’m serious about shining the light on this.

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  • Comments (11)
    • paul
    • February 19th, 2011

    As a Marin Freecycler I find this wonderful organization a blessing. The burden of doing what must be tons of work and use of time moderating and keeping this site functioning must be overwhelming. Nicole’s generous gift of her time is beyond the call of volunteer duty. I think this site/service would go down substantially without her. Is anyone else jumping up to do as much as she does? How many of us who use Freecycle have a clue how much work it takes to do such a great job? I would support dues for all, if the group chose that means to compensate our moderator. She, on the other hand has come up with a way for everyone to get to participate at any level they choose. She has chosen a non-mandatory route and each of us gets to contribute or not. What could be better than that? I for one support the idea of the “tip jar” and dread the thought of not having Nicole.
    I would ask that others who post their comments tone down some of the crude language that has been posted about other’s opinions. It is discourse, disagreement and compromise that enables us to find a solution to problems that arise. Even Joel’s opinion needs to be respected (and maybe rejected).
    I hope we continue to thank Nicole and that she continues to work so hard to help us and Freecycle benefit from the fruits of her labor.
    Paul S.

      • Tom – the cat
      • February 20th, 2011

      Hi Paul,

      As far as the use of “crude language” is concerned, I agree that we should not start aggression.

      However, in German there is a saying “Auf einen groben Klotz gehört ein grober Keil.” which translates as something like: “A rough log needs a rough wedge.”

      If somebody threatens to kicks me in the shin, I will not kindly ask for him to stop. Why? Because then he won’t, he will probably beat the crap out of me instead. Hence, I will make clear that I will kick back and then some. I never get beaten up.

      I find Joel’s position beyond unacceptable. With his comments, while using coolheaded language, he was displaying extremely aggressive, patronizing, insulting, pushy, disrespectful, arrogant and totally out of his business thinking and behavior.
      To even honor this type of aggression with ANY response I consider already an act of kindness and respect, as it attempts to offer an alternative position for him to consider. His comments do not deserve any more respect than that, as they are entirely void of it themselves. He probably would be better off being entirely ignored, as being ignored would increase the likelihood of him ceasing such inappropriate behavior in the future.

      Also, to “compromise” in this case would mean not being clear on the boundary that Joel so clearly overstepped. He was utterly out of line.

      Tom (the one with the claws)

    • quitamoon
    • February 17th, 2011

    OMG, such drama around a good and positive endeavor. It has always been my understanding that each group was independent and free to set rules based on individual criteria as long as the base precepts of “Freecycling”; keeping things out of the landfill is retained. And to be run on a volunteer basis is commendable, but as a volunteer for many years in varied field I know it is meant to be a labor of love. Unfortunately, or actually fortunately due to success, at some point organizations grow and begin to overtax a volunteer’s time, patience and energy. At that point groups usually hire a coordinator. But in lieu of that, a group can and often will compensate the volunteer leader for those efforts beyond the volunteer level. For that I am in favor. I will gladly contribute a stipend
    to the person who keeps this worthwhile endeavor going. Thanks Nicole.

    • Tom (the cat)
    • February 17th, 2011

    This might also be a good opportunity to mention how GRATEFUL I am that you, Nicole, are moderating the group. A few things that I would not have been able to afford otherwise have come my way because of you.

    I cannot offer money to your tip jar, but I could offer home made low-calorie chocolate that people seem to like.
    Or have you over for lunch (Central San Rafael), when I make something tasty, like the creamed dhal soup.
    And give you first dibs when I offer things to the group.
    I can probable think of more things…

    • Tom (the cat)
    • February 17th, 2011

    May I kindly suggest to restrict comments to registered members of the group, please?

    • Tom (the cat)
    • February 17th, 2011

    Who is Joel to speak for the interest of the group?
    Do we need control freaks here?
    I did not think so.

    If anything, it is US who can discuss this. So:

    Tip jar is a GREAT idea.
    It is an invitation, not an arm twisting.

    As I already told Nicole, Joel should best go and get himself a good shafting.
    I am sure somebody would supply it. For FREE! No tips necessary!
    He is in DESPERATE need of one, as he obviously needs some assistance with his anal-retention.

    • CG
    • February 17th, 2011

    I do agree that asking for tips seems to be against the spirit of Freecycle. I myself moderate a community of 4000+ people online and I don’t get paid for my work. You should never ask for or expect monetary compensation for a volunteer position. If the work gets to be too much, that’s why you appoint another moderator.

    It would be one thing if the money were going directly to infrastructure – for example, if Yahoo! groups weren’t free – or to an actual non-profit organization as a legitimate donation. But it’s not – it’s going into your pocket. Optional or not, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth and feels like you want a handout. It honestly makes me uncomfortable. It seems anathema to the concept of Freecycle.

    Running a community like this is a thankless job, but you volunteer to do it. If it takes so much out of you that you want compensation then you probably should have someone help you or give it up – not ask for money to make up for time spent.

      • Nicole-admin
      • February 17th, 2011

      I don’t see your email in the YG MarinFreecycle membership. Are you a member?

      You’re entitled to your opinion. I disagree with it of course. People have different styles of moderating and their viewpoints of what it should and shouldn’t be. I do know that the role of volunteers is changing as our society adjusts to a global economy, and especially in a down economy. It is becoming more acceptable for volunteers at offline functions to have a tip jar. This has been practiced in the online world also for blog sites that provide valued information and a great user experience.

      However, if it makes you feel uncomfortable to tip a volunteer, in any venue, then you shouldn’t tip them.

      • Tom (the cat)
      • February 17th, 2011

      The important part is that the service – providing a place for people to offer their goods for free – stays without mandatory charge.

      Having worked in a non-profit organization for years, I know it is NOT in the interest of its members to have all functions be served by unpaid volunteers. It translates into incompetent chaos.

      If you personally are independently wealthy enough to not need any compensation for your work, great.
      However, please do not judge others from your privileged position. Some people have to earn a living to survive, especially in a county where you are out of $1000 every month just for renting a whole in the wall.

      I am glad that Nicole has provided as much service as she has already.

    • Wonderlady
    • February 17th, 2011

    It’s a shame that Joel is taking such a hard line, without even asking you to remove the tip jar. He just wants you out!

    Too bad he couldn’t just pick up the phone and discuss this.

    I think you are right that they don’t really have any control over what you are doing, unless, way back when, you signed something that precludes anything that smacks of taking money.

    I don’t think you would lose much by losing the link from their website. You are fairly well known around Marin, and as you pointed out, they lost the case on owning the trademark on “freecycle.”

    Do keep us informed of future developments.


      • Nicole-admin
      • February 17th, 2011

      Thank you for your comment Ruth.

      When I started the group July 2004 it was a simple matter of creating it on Yahoo Groups. A few months later I approached to include a link from their site to ours. After 4 months they finally did. There was no conditions or agreement between us for anything, either verbal or written.

      Several years later when Waste Management was their main corporate sponsor, the founder of freecycle called and asked me to get our group involved to put on a function at the Redwood landfill, saying it would be a flagship event, etc, they would provide banners, flyers, and press for a win-win for WM and MarinFreecycle.

      I declined.

      Besides being uncomfortable with the idea of promoting WM, at that time there was a lot of negative press surrounding the landfill re environmental impact, inspections, etc, and that made me even more uncomfortable.

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