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By Posting this Poppy Image, I’m Courting a Nastygram

Photo: Rememberance Day Poppy.

If you’re Canadian, you recognize the image shown here: it’s a poppy pin, which is traditionally worn on lapels during the days leading up to Remembrance Day (November 11th), the day on which Canadians commemorate the sacrifices made by our veterans.

Here on this blog, it’s been a tradition to honour the veterans that day by posting a poppy image (here are my 2003 and 2004 entries). A number of other Canadian bloggers have done the same.

This may change. The Royal Canadian Legion gave Pierre Bourque some static for posting a poppy image on Bourque Newswatch, something he’s done for the past eight years. The reason:

…one Steven Clark, Secretary, Poppy and Remembrance Committee of the Royal Canadian Legion, who, in an inspired twist of bad PR, fired off a pointed email and demanded that I remove the poppy from Bourque.Com, the biggest and most powerful one-page website in the country.

“The Committee”, reprimands Mr. Clark, “acknowledges your effort to promote Remembrance but, as we do not have control over website content, the use of the Poppy image is not authorized.”

After receiving hundreds of emails in response from Bourque and his readership, here’s what Bob Butt (a man whose surname is so appropriate it’s downright Dickensian) had to say in reply:

“Hi, Sorry you’ve run into this but the poppy is a trademark of the Legion and anyone who wants to use it has to apply. Otherwise it would be all over the place. There are numeorus (Sic) examples where it has been used for sales and other purposes. As it is not in the public domain and because it is a registered trademark of the Legion the organization is taking every step it can to protect it (and I do mean every step). All this can be avoided in the future if you ask to use it on your site and you get the proper approval. Sorry, I know your heart and many others are in the right place. Unfortunately we have to protect this image or lose its use as a symbol of Remembrance.”

Colby Cosh sums up my feelings on this matter quite nicely, so I’ll let him do the talking:

I never thought I was helping to remove a piece of our cultural heritage from the public domain by buying Remembrance Day poppies. And I am certainly surprised to learn that “Remembrance” itself has become anyone’s formal property. I won’t pay for or wear one ever again. And neither should you.

5 replies on “By Posting this Poppy Image, I’m Courting a Nastygram”

Use of the poppy trademark (which is registered to the Royal Canadian Legion, Dominion Command) without permission is a recurring issue. Last year for example, the Royal Canadian Legion filed a lawsuit against a Montreal company for using poppies on its commercial products. (I think there was a Boing Boing article about this last year as well).

Interestingly that has not stopped the Legion from using poppies on its own (commemorative) products such as ball caps, swiss army knives, scarves and beer coasters.

(see for a fascinating catalogue of wares)

Another example where consent had to be granted for use of the poppy trademark was by the Canadian Mint — those poppy quarters distributed at Tim Hortons had to be approved by the Legion. (at least, the poppy part).

The Legion’s intent (as far as I can determine) is that use of the poppy trademark always take place in a context that is respectful of its meaning as a symbol — hence their desire to control all usage of the poppy trademark.

[side note: I am expressly not venturing an editorial opinion on the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ of this situation]

All the uses you’ve cited are of the Legion’s poppy design for commercial ventures, in which case I could be convinced that royalties need to be paid. However, I think that the use of a photo of a poppy pin on someone’s personal non-commercial website is a considerably different matter and falls squarely in the realm of “fair use”.

One other minor comment– wrt Colby Cosh’s statement “I won’t pay for or wear one ever again. And neither should you.”

It should be noted that officially, poppies are “distributed”, not sold. People are free to make a donation or not, as they choose; they do NOT have to pay to wear one.

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