Web Site Content
The content of council Web sites generally falls into two categories: marketing material presented to generate and direct public interest in joining or supporting programs, and service material presented for existing members. Both are valid and useful applications of Internet technology.
Though the Internet is a popular medium, and though its popularity continues to increase at an astounding rate, it's important to remember that it is not yet a universal medium. While the council's Web presence may support traditional channels of distributing information, it should not replace them, and should be treated as a secondary (rather than preferred or exclusive) channel of communication with members and volunteers.
It is important to know the original source of all council Web site content and to be sure the council has permission to use it. The only content the council owns outright are the text, photos, illustrations, design, and programming developed by the council's employees in the course of their jobs. Permission must be given by the owner for using all other material.
National Council Publications
Local councils may reproduce the content of any BSA "bin resources" publication they feel is appropriate for their sites' audiences. However, councils may not replicate any part of any publication currently for sale through the Supply Division. The difference between "bin" and "supply" items may seem unclear for those items the council purchases but then redistributes without charge to its members. Item numbers provide a reliable method of differentiation: bin items have five-digit numbers separated with a hyphen (00-000) whereas Supply Division items have four or five digits (the first is typically a 3 or 4) that are not separated by a hyphen (0000 or 00000). (The item number is generally printed on the back cover or at the bottom of the contents page.)
Specific exceptions to this rule have been made so that approved council Web sites can link to certain Supply Division forms (medical forms, tour permits, certain applications, etc.) that are posted on a hidden location on the National Council site. Likewise, the Guide to Safe Scouting, a Supply Division item, has been approved for approved council Web site links. Such exceptions are rare, and generally focus on service to members through the local council.
Content of Boys' Life and Scouting magazines should never be reproduced on council Web sites without first obtaining permission from the Magazine Division. Many articles and images are included in the magazines under limited license and copying them could violate copyright law. Councils may employ "frames" technology to include either magazine's pages from the National Council site into the council site, but should never copy any magazine files or text excerpts or images without explicit permission.
If a council wishes to include any content (whether text, photographs, illustrations, design, or programming), that is not developed by council employees or by third parties under the terms of a contract or agreement with the council, it is important to obtain written permission from the owner of that material. Even if the material is owned by a volunteer or donor and is provided with the understanding it will be used in the council's site, written permission remains important.
In its simplest form,this written permission can be provided in a letter that explicitly states that the owner will permit the council (or the Boy Scouts of America) to use the material. It is also common to indicate the duration (dates) for which the permission is granted, the medium (media) in which the reproduction may occur, and any restrictions that may apply.
Materials from Other Web Sites
Reusing material found on the Internet is especially dangerous. It is all too common for amateur Web publishers to take copyrighted material and reproduce it on their own Web sites and say that it is "free" or "public domain." A written agreement is prudent, regardless of any explicit disclaimer on a Web site, before using any material downloaded from the Web. It is especially important to obtain permission in advance for materials used on the Internet. Unlike newsletters, which are distributed only to members, the Internet is available to the public, and it is inevitable that the owner will discover your use of their material on your Web site.
For photographs taken by council personnel or by photographers hired by the council, a "talent release" should be obtained for every person shown in the photos. Appendix A is a talent release form similar to that used by the National Council. This particular release obtains permission for the Boy Scouts of America (the National Council, any local council, district, or unit) to use the image in any medium. You may use it as is by typing it onto your council or other letterhead, or customize it to obtain rights for your council only or for only certain media if you wish. It is especially important to obtain this release, with the signature of a guardian, for youth.
While obtaining the permission of the owner (photographer) of an image or obtaining talent releases for photographs taken by the council is adequate to satisfy ownership issues, it is also prudent to obtain the permission of the subject(s) specifically to use their likeness on the Internet. See "Photographs and Names" on page "Privacy and Youth Protection" for more detailed information.
Links to Other Web Sites
In general, councils should be cautious about linking to other Web sites. A user may follow a link from the council's site to another, which links to another, and another ... and the chain of links may lead to a site that contains unacceptable content. Though experienced users recognize the ownership of Web pages, inexperienced ones may feel the council is culpable for content they are exposed to after clicking links that lead them several sites removed from the council's site.
The safest course of action would be not to link at all. At the very least, councils should review any site to which they link to ensure its content is appropriate to the Scouting movement, and should be prepared to delete links in a timely manner in the event the content of these sites changes.
Another significant implication about links is that a link to a third-party site implies an endorsement. It will be assumed that the council endorses the content for use by its audience, which is primarily composed of its membership. For this reason, councils should be especially cautious about making links to sites of certain kinds:
National Council Web site
Linking to the National Council site from a council site is not necessary, nor is it recommended. As Scouting programs are administered by local council, the local council should be the primary source of information, in every medium, to individuals in its geographic area. If a council wishes to make resources from the National site available to its own visitors, the preferred method would be to import these resources directly into the council site (by use of frames technology as described at http://www.scouting.org/webmasters/frames.aspx). This will give the perception that the information is coming from the local council and will keep visitors "inside" the council site rather than sending them "up" to the National Council site via a standard hyptertext link.
District and Unit Sites
A council's link to a district or unit site connotes that the council has authorized that district/unit site and that it is officially representative. While these links may be made, the council should ensure these sites are acceptable before providing a link and should monitor the sites periodically.
Third-Party "Scouting" Sites
There are numerous Scouting-oriented sites on the Internet that are not maintained or authorized by the BSA. These sites provide a wealth of general-interest information on topics of interest to members and program participants (camping, games, songs and skits, crafts, etc.). Some of these sites also provide information such as program helps, advice for leaders, requirements, procedures, forms, publications, ceremonies, and other resources that would seem to be of an official nature, but which are not authorized by the BSA. In some cases, this information is misleading or incorrect, and could cause conflict with members who refer to unofficial sources the council "endorsed." Worse, these sites may suggest activities that are unacceptable or unsafe by BSA standards, causing potential liabilities for a council that "authorized" (by linking to) the site for use by its members.
Third-Party Commercial Sites
While many commercial sites provide valuable information of a non-commercial nature, councils should be careful when linking to these sites to avoid the impression that the council is endorsing commercial products or services. Annotation often makes the difference, as in this example: A link to xyzboots.com (the XYZ Boot Company's home page) appears to be a commercial endorsement. If you added the sentence "The XYZ Boot Company provides excellent advice for avoiding hiking injuries," and then linked directly to the page about avoiding hiking injuries, you clarify that the council endorses the information the company is providing rather than the product it is selling.
Sites with "Free" Services
"Free" site components tend to be commercial. Certain sites offer services such as statistics, hit counters, guest books, animations, and the like to other Web sites. Like the bogus "awards," sites and sites offering "free" Web space or e-mail, the primary purpose of these giveaways is to advertise and plant links to the "donor" site on a wide range of Web sites in order to draw audience away from its "benefactors." Of course, there are plenty of legitimate reference Web sites as well. The best approach when you consider linking to a site is to "click through" the site while asking yourself, "Why are they offering this service? What do they want from me?" The answer should tell you whether you want to link to the site or not.
Content and Links to Avoid
Advertisements and Banners
Councils are prohibited from endorsing commercial products or services in any medium, including the Internet. Banner advertisements for commercial products and services are thus inappropriate for council Web sites. (NOTE: any use of the Internet for fund-raising is subject to the same policies and procedures as other fund-raising activities.)
Another popular type of banner on the Internet provides site owners with free promotion on other Web sites in exchange for promoting other sites on theirs. Though not strictly a commercial endorsement, these banners remain unacceptable because they provide a highly visible link from the council site to others, and the council does not control either the graphic that is displayed or the site to which it links - one or both may be patently inappropriate.
Web Site Awards and Certification
There are a number of Web sites that offer "awards" or "certification" for other sites. These awards/certifications often require the honoree to display an URL or provide a click-through link that promotes the grantor's site. In many cases, such "honors" are ploys to draw traffic to other sections of the grantor's site, with a commercial or political motive. These should be avoided.
Learning for Life Content
In 1998, Learning for Life became a subsidiary of the Boy Scouts of America, and the National Council has completely separated the Learning for Life and Exploring programs from traditional Scouting programs in terms of its marketing and materials. On the Internet, the National Council maintains a separate Web site for all information about Learning for Life programs: http://www.learning-for-life.org.
This effort should also be supported on the council level: Information about Learning for Life and Exploring should be provided on an entirely separate Web site—or, failing that, a self-contained site within the council's Web space until a transition to a stand-alone site can be made.
There should be no mention of Learning for Life or Exploring on traditional Scouting sites, or vice versa, in terms of text content, photographs, images, etc., and the sites should not promote or link to one another after a period of transition has elapsed.