Hacker Scouts hope to retain their logo. (via Hacker Scouts)
Trademark and copyright infringement can be a serious offense punishable by hefty fines and even jail time. Just ask anyone convicted of these offensives (including file sharing and torrenting) and they’ll tell you that most instances are not worth the hassle. One of the more recent incidents involving copyright infringement came from the world’s leading intelligence agency the NSA, who has threatened lawsuits against websites (notably Zazzle.com) and persons who sell humorous t-shirts depicting the agency with unflattering quotes. The problem is not the quotes themselves but rather using the agency’s logo, which has been copyrighted. It’s understandable that a highly secretive intelligence agency would go through the motions of filing lawsuits against those that would ‘steal’ from them (yes, pun intended), but what about organizations that cater towards children by installing a sense of honor and morality through education? That’s the case between the Boy Scouts of America and a non-profit Oakland-based start-up known as Hacker Scouts. Don’t let the name full you, Hacker Scouts doesn’t train kids to break into sensitive computers or create devastating viruses aimed at taking down financial institutions but rather provides a learning platform that gets kids into engineering, development, art, sciences or math in an effort to educate them for the future of technology.
The problem the BSA has in this case is a two-sided coin with one issue being the use of the word Scout and the other being a similar mission statement between the two organizations. The Boy Scouts obtained a Congressional Charter back in 1920, which provides a law given to the group that outlines the organization’s mission statement, authority and its activities, not to mention it solidifies the word Scout and Scouting (meaning relative to that group) to the organization itself. Those that use the words in their logo without obtaining permission from the BSA can be legally charged with copyright and trademark infringement and while they routinely sell that name to other businesses and organizations, they have no mercy for those that simply take the words without paying. The second issue the BSA has with Hacker Scouts is their mission statement, which says the Hacker Scouts model provides knowledge, application and retention of concepts and skills while supporting independence and interest. More specifically, it’s the last line of the group’s outline that the BSA is scrutinizing, which states it instills the development of strong moral character and leadership skills through their core values. In contrast, the BSA’s statement reads ‘to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices by instilling in them Scout values’. Samantha Cook, head of the Hacker Scouts, states that the their missions statement was developed based upon guilds, which represents an apprentice being taught by an expert in a related field and the Boy Scouts never entered the minds of those who began the non-profit organization. Only time will tell if the Scouts can live up to their tradition of instilling strong moral character into their ranks as both groups are centered on giving children opportunities to learn and grow into responsible adults.
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