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December 31, 2003

Disney Goes Postal

The Post Office unveiled new postage stamps yesterday, to be issued in the summer of 2004 . The four stamps, which portray copyrighted Disney characters "celebrate friendship as portrayed by the Walt Disney studio"

"Soon, with the help of some famous friends, it will be easy for our customers to add a cheerful touch to their cards, letters and packages as they correspond with their own friends and loved ones or conduct business using the mail," said David Failor, executive director of Stamp Services for the Postal Service.

Added Mary Beech, director, Franchise Management, Disney Consumer Products: "The new postage stamps are a tremendous testament to the lasting popularity of Mickey Mouse and other beloved Disney characters like Bambi and Simba. We are honored to be working with the United States Postal Service to release to consumers such a wonderful and endearing stamp program."

I don't know about the other consumers, Mary, but this one would be a lot happier if a government agency wasn't doing your advertising for you. Yes, I realize that Warner Brothers stamps have already been issued. That was wrong too.

Now, if Disney paid to have the stamps printed, that would be all right with me. I've got no problem with giant corporations subsidizing my snail mail. I suspect this is not the case, since the Postal Service "derives its operating revenues solely from the sale of postage, products and services."

If the copyright* on the characters protrayed had expired, that would be okay too. But they aren't expired. Disney uses them every day in an attempt to extract money from my pocket. I don't need an agency of the federal government helping them.

Of course, to the Postal service, these stamps are not advertising. According to the guidelines of the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committe, which is reviews all stamp proposals

Stamps or stationery items shall not be issued to honor fraternal, political, sectarian, or service/charitable organizations. Stamps or stationery shall not be issued to promote or advertise commercial enterprises or products. Commercial products or enterprises might be used to illustrate more general concepts related to American culture. (emphasis mine)

The Disney characters aren't advertising Disney, they instead "celebrate friendship," which is a lot like a Ronald McDonald stamp that celebrates beef.

Speaking of Ronald, McDonald's has a storied place in American history too. Will the Golden Arches, Ronald McDonald and the Hamburgler be appearing on an upcoming stamp series? It doesn't have to be beef, they could "celebrate entrepreneuers."

What about the Exxon Tiger and the Texaco Star? Can they "celebrate automotive freedom?"

To claim that these stamps are not promotions or advertisements is ludicrous, and flies in the face of current marketing practice. The portraits on these stamps are commercial speech, as much advertising as a strategically placed Coke is on an episode of Friends. The Bugs Bunny stamp cracked the door open to this kind of abuse, and the Disney stamps further widen it. A torrent of branded stamps is sure to follow.

*The copyright on Mickey at least would have expired by now, save for the Disney-inspired Copyright Term Extension Act bill that Sonny Bono snuck through Congress during the Lewinsky mess. Roast in Hell, Sonny.

Posted by Bigwig at December 31, 2003 02:06 PM | TrackBack
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They should pin a medal on the tree that killed Sonny Bono.

Posted by: Laurence Simon at December 31, 2003 03:09 PM

Amen to that. With any reasonable copyright duration, LotR would be available within my lifetime for someone who loves the books to make some sort of computer-animated version that doesn't parody the original works.

Posted by: Kevin at December 31, 2003 04:13 PM

Well said, Bigwig. I spent several years butting heads with the Disney gang back in the Eighties when they tried to build a historically themed amusement park on top of actual battlefields and landmarks here in Virginia, so I ain't exactly a fan of the Mouse. Good work.

Posted by: ronbailey at December 31, 2003 07:22 PM

Sonny Bono had nothing to do with the act. He was neither an author nor a sponsor. He had recently died in a skiing accident, and his name was tacked onto the bill by others.

Posted by: jms at January 4, 2004 03:37 AM