[hackerspaces] US hackerspaces - corporation formation and 501(c)3 status

nicolle superherogirl at gmail.com
Thu May 28 19:46:51 CEST 2009

Beth, dr.kaos is correct...i am the lawyer for Pumping Station: One, and 
i am giving a talk at Defcon about the legal concerns of starting a 
hackerspace.  i don't intend for the talk (or anything i say on this 
list, for that matter...) to substitute for consulting an attorney...but 
it's extremely helpful to know what you're getting into, and extremely 
helpful to be able to ask the right questions and be familiar with the 
issues, especially if you're discussing your situation with a lawyer who 
may not be familiar with what hackerspaces entail.

i definitely echo the thought that it's a good idea to talk to a real, 
live lawyer about legal concerns.  corporate formation is mostly 
straightforward...but the key word there, i think, is mostly.  each 
state has its own requirements for incorporating, and then there is 
certain information that needs to be in the articles of incorporation 
and the bylaws to lay the groundwork for 501(c)(3), if you're planning 
to go that route.

the need to talk to an attorney goes beyond corporate formation, though, 
because that's not the only legal issue that's going to pop up.  you're 
going to have to deal with zoning and lease negotiation.  you're going 
to have to deal with liability issues for members and guests.  legally 
advising a single hackerspace is obviously not a full-time job, but 
differing legal issues arise frequently enough that it's advisable to 
talk to an attorney to make sure your ducks are in a row.  a lot of 
cities do have resources to turn to...pro bono attorneys for the arts, 
and organizations and clinics that assist nonprofits for free.  search 
online, or ask the local bar association to point you in the right 


beth wrote:
> I agree with jur1st.
> If you don't have time to find the same info on the web, these kits  
> may be a good idea, but they just get you started and don't answer any  
> questions.
> Finding a local lawyers for the arts type group offering a clinic is a  
> good idea, check with your local pro-bono org or bar assoc. too.
> Also, simply finding a local non-profit with a mission that is like  
> yours and asking them how they set up their organization/board and  
> bylaws etc and what issues they ran into can be invaluable. Here in  
> Atlanta, we found an arts organization that was set up specifically to  
> provide old printing presses and offered classes on their use. Their  
> mission was educational and creative. Alot of what they are doing  
> could be translated to what we are doing (providing access to  
> technology and education on how to use it).
> Look at your area non-profits and ask them if they have someone who  
> can spend some time via email/phone/inperson telling you how they got  
> their 501c3 and how they overcame challenges and even what their  
> bylaws say. Most will be happy to lend a hand and you may find fast  
> friends and great resources too.
> Filing these documents costs alot of money even without the lawyers,  
> so you don't want to have to do it twice, or be denied status. It's  
> worth a workshop/clinic fee.
> (Also, dr.kaos, my better half, says there is a lawyer from Pumping  
> Station One in Chicago giving  a talk on this at defcon, go see it or  
> get the recording after.)
> Beth
> On May 28, 2009, at 11:55 AM, jur1st wrote:
>> I recall a commercial for a national tax prep firm which made an
>> excellent point about products like Turbo Tax. When you get audited,
>> who are you going to ask for assistance?  The software box?
>> Outfits like the ones you mention come with forms...that's it. No way
>> to talk through the issues which you bring up later in your
>> message...no opportunity to discuss other legal issues or risk
>> management with an actual attorney.
>> This culture is very DIY based...but legal and financial issues are
>> best handled by those that have backgrounds in law, tax, accounting  
>> etc.
>> You may want to consult with a local or regional law school to see if
>> they have clinics or professors who could help pro-bono.
>> -jur1st
>> On May 28, 2009, at 10:45 AM, dosman <dosman at packetsniffers.org>  
>> wrote:
>>> Hi, I have some questions for US-based hackerspaces:
>>> Has anyone used places like legalzoom.com or incorporate.com to form
>>> their non-profit or any other business for that matter? They seem to
>>> focus on LLC formation but also do non-profits with 501(c)3 status.  
>>> We
>>> are working on forming our group and after looking at all the work
>>> required they seem like the easiest and cheapest way to get something
>>> up and running (and with fewer mistakes being made). I realize they
>>> make it look over-simplified, however using them as a guiding hand
>>> seems reasonable. Comments and suggestions are welcomed.
>>> Additionally, for spaces that have gone the 501(c)3 route, I assume
>>> they claim to be operated specificly for scientific purposes? (as
>>> stated in section 3 of IRS doc p557). Has anyone had troubles with
>>> this definition during their application process? After reading a lot
>>> of spaces bylaws we've seen lots of statements like "contributing to
>>> the international commnity" which is great- except that my
>>> understanding is that a non-profit needs to give back to it's local
>>> community. While that is certainly attainable, I am curious if anyone
>>> has had trouble being qualified since they don't specificly state  
>>> they
>>> plan to benefit their local community? I'm just playing devils
>>> advocate here, these are the types of challenges I would expect the
>>> IRS to throw down to a 501(c)3 application.
>>> Thanks!
>>> -dosman
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> Discuss mailing list
>>> Discuss at lists.hackerspaces.org
>>> http://lists.hackerspaces.org/mailman/listinfo/discuss
>> _______________________________________________
>> Discuss mailing list
>> Discuss at lists.hackerspaces.org
>> http://lists.hackerspaces.org/mailman/listinfo/discuss
> _______________________________________________
> Discuss mailing list
> Discuss at lists.hackerspaces.org
> http://lists.hackerspaces.org/mailman/listinfo/discuss

"A developed and decent man cannot be vain without a boundless exactingness toward himself and without despising himself at moments to the point of hatred."
Notes from Underground
by Fyodor Dostoevsky

More information about the Discuss mailing list