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The Canadian Penny – a nation’s property or the Queen’s?

by Björn Schöpe

October 16, 2012 – Would you consider to stick coins on a CD cover? No, probably you wouldn’t. However, in certain cases it might pay off, especially when you are an artist and sell thousands and thousands of CDs living in a country with rigid copyright restrictions on the images of coins. A country like – Canada until some days ago, at least …

What can a mint dream of? Let’s guess. Maybe that their product is estimated, or even better loved by the people? Sounds great! Customers who identify themselves with money that enjoys kind of an iconic status. Over centuries many sayings have actually been created around money dealing in general with payment or according to the various types of coins in use at the time. An interesting and commented list you may find in a book we presented to you recently.

So it sounds like fantastic marketing when a singer announces a new album dedicated to a coin for emotional motives, because the coin has been withdrawn lately. Canadian folk singer Dave Gunning decided to name his new album after the Canadian Penny that ended its centenary life last spring. On the album cover of ‘No more Pennies’ a man sits in a coffee bar in front of him a lot of small coins, presumably pennies, scattered on a table. On the back, now, a sunset is depicted and the sunball has been replaced by a Canadian penny’s reverse featuring the famous maple leaf.
At first glance one might think this could be a great marketing help for the Royal Canadian Mint (RCM). Although the penny has been withdrawn the Mint itself hopes for certain emotional links as it seems since they have just announced a series of collector coins called ‘Farewell to the Penny’. These coins, of course, are made of silver and gold but they certainly appeal to the Canadians’ shared and positive feelings about the penny. The reason why the coin ended its long life was a purely economical one: it cost too much.

But let’s return to Gunning’s album. A Gunning fan working in the RCM wanted to support him and suggested at his working place to sell the CD in the Mint shop. When the intellectual property department heard about this they hesitated, made some enquiries and ascertained a violation of the ‘Crown Copyright’. The Mint demanded a CAD 1,200 (949 Euro / 1.228 USD) fee for every 2,000 sales. The singer had not been aware of this problem and asked his fans to support him. Articles on this issue provoked a protest. Commenting upon an article one reader suggested a clever idea: to glue authentic pennies on the album back. Indeed this could not be prohibited by any copyright and would cost only CAD 20 every 2,000 copies instead of a CAD 1,200 fee – quite an impressive saving!

The Mint’s spokeswoman at first stated: ‘The Mint has an Intellectual Property Policy in place to protect its IP assets, which includes coin images, and ensure their appropriate use. In instances where an approved use is being made for commercial gain (as would be the case with an ad campaign or selling music CDs), royalty fees are applied.’
Whether the mint can claim actually a Crown Copyright over the penny’s reverse pictured on an album, however, was questioned by a journalist. As she explained the Crown Copyright expires after fifty years and the penny reverse was designed in the 1930s and has not been altered since 1948. Be that as it may, the RCM has finally understood that it was creating more damage to its own reputation by defending this intellectual property.

After some days the Mint had to change their position and announced: ‘We now recognize that our policy as it is today may not consider the individual needs and circumstances of those who request to use our images. … the Mint will assess our current intellectual property policy to determine if changes need to be made to ensure that it is being applied fairly on a case-by-case basis while protecting the interests of Canadians.’
Dave Gunning may use at no cost the image of the penny reverse and is therefore extremely relieved and praises the Mint’s prompt reaction. The donations received for paying the threatened fee Mr Gunning declared to give to a Halifax children’s hospital.

However, a Huffington Post article quotes the RCM’s spokeswoman Christine Aquino declaring that the album’s next production round would see some design changes the mint requires. And in any case the penny’s obverse featuring the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II is not permitted to be shown. We will see whether this requirement will be abolished in the future changes that expect the Crown Copyright as applied by the RCM or not. Let’s hope that the Canadians will never feel too linked to the Queen provoking the desire to depict a coin obverse with her effigy on some album …

This older CBC News article informs about the first reaction.

The more recent development explains the Huffington Post.

Later Tamara Winegust questioned the possible application of the Crown Copyright in this case in an article.

You can read the last RCM statement on that issue here.

The RCM presents the new collector coins here.

To learn more about the history and end of the Canadian Penny, read this article here.

You can listen to the songs from the album on the website of Dave Gunning.

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