We all know that in general commercial activities are not welcome on amateur radio bands.

One thing that somewhat related to that came up in a discussion I had with some operators:
Is it ethical to accept money for printing and sending QSL cards in return for mentioning a public or private enterprise on the card itself? Say for example "X is friend of radio amateurs!".

According to my sense of ethics, that would fit withing "commercial activities", but some of the people disagreed, so I'm not so sure myself.

  • $\begingroup$ Also do we have tag for not-legality-assotiated ethics? $\endgroup$ – AndrejaKo Apr 14 '14 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ We don't have such a tag, insofar as I know. Generally speaking, ethics questions are difficult to pose without them falling under the category of "primarily opinion-based", which is a type of question that don't work well with the question-and-answer format of Stack Exchange (but does work well with discussion forums, of which there are plenty relating to amateur radio). This one has a relatively clear-cut answer, as shown by Phil Frost in particular, but I can easily imagine ethics-related questions that are nowhere near as easy to answer authoritatively. We don't really want to go there. $\endgroup$ – user Apr 17 '14 at 7:22
  • $\begingroup$ Note that comments are meant to request clarification or suggest improvements to a post, not for peripherally related discussions. If you would like to discuss this further, please take it up on Amateur Radio Meta rather than further discussion here in the comments. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – user Apr 17 '14 at 7:23

It isn't that commercial activities are unwelcome or unethical, on amateur bands. Rather, it's that they are illegal. The relevant rules in the USA are in §97.1 Basis and purpose:

(a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications

and §97.3 Definitions:

(4) Amateur service. A radiocommunication service for the purpose of self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations carried out by amateurs, that is, duly authorized persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest.

and §97.113 Prohibited transmissions:

(3) Communications in which the station licensee or control operator has a pecuniary interest, including communications on behalf of an employer, with the following exceptions:

While I'm not sure of the relevant legislation in your native Serbia, it's a fair bet that it's similar.

In any case, these regulations are about the communications you make on the air. The FCC has no authority over what you put in the mail. It's a fair extrapolation of the intent expressed in §97.1 and elsewhere that the FCC's concern is commercial interests using the amateur service as a free alternative to commercial spectrum which would otherwise require an expensive license.

There are many activities that do have some pecuniary interest, related to amateur radio, but not taking place on the air. For example, hamfests and magazines. Would anyone argue that these are unethical? I doubt it.

As such, I don't see any argument for making a paid endorsement on a QSL card any different than any other paid endorsement. Indeed, that can be an ethical minefield, but whether it's on your QSL card or your blog is largely irrelevant.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 - these regulations are about the communications you make on the air - these laws were never intended to govern mail (another communication medium) or email or websites (many amateur clubs have sponsor banners on their club website to pay for the hosting, etc). $\endgroup$ – BenSwayne Apr 14 '14 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Phil Frost It isn't that commercial activities are unwelcome or unethical, on amateur bands. Rather, it's that they are illegal. Interesting difference in point of view. Of course they're illegal here too, but it seems that it's more common to think what's ethical here in Serbia than what's legal, possibly since the regulatory agency does very little to regulate and it's usually up to community to solve any problems. $\endgroup$ – AndrejaKo Apr 16 '14 at 12:32

As with many purely ethical questions, there is no canonical answer. In the US, as far as my reading of the rules go, sponsorship is not illegal. Most of the code of conduct type things I have seen (e.g., DX Code of Conduct) are also silent on the issue.

QSL cards are ancillary to the radio hobby and basically outside the purview of the rules. The rules about commercial activity are about keeping the amateur airwaves focused on one-to-one conversation, not broadcast advertisements. The cards are only going to specific people after you've made contact with them and then not over the air. I don't see a conflict here with the rules are about commercial endeavors. In fact, some of these amazing pictures undoubtedly serve (mostly unintentionally) to boost tourism. I certainly have a few cards with views I would like to see in person :)


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