A sense of respect has always characterized Kings County Advertiser and Register coverage of Remembrance Day and legion events.
It was a bit of a shock to learn that the papers, through the group publisher, received a caution from the Royal Canadian Legion last month about the use of the red poppy image without permission editorially and not at all in an advertising context.
Can they do that? It seems the answer is “yes.”
According to the Legion’s 62-page Poppy Manual, the trademark was registered in in 1948 and the act was “to ensure that (the poppy) would never be used (for) commercial or personal gain and would never be desecrated through inappropriate use.”
The list of usages that will not be considered for the poppy include everything from posters for music performances to memorials from veterans from non-Allied countries to websites that list members of modern-day soldiers to car magnets to tattoos. Use on blogs or other websites is also not allowed. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the British Legion has downloadable images of the poppy freely available to allow other sites to link to their fundraising campaign.
Use of the poppy in Remembrance Day features in print media may be approved, but on a case-by-case basis and there’s no guarantee. Following the policy can tie the hands of a publication on deadline.
While the booklet reiterates that the trademark control does not apply to other images of the poppy flower, “unless that usage is misrepresented as the Legion’s Poppy.” Legion officials have cautioned that when an image of the poppy flower is used in context of remembrance, it needs to be cleared with the organizations first.
According to CTV News, a party promoter in Halifax tried to throw a “poppy party” at a downtown bar, and according to news reports also from CTV, the legion didn’t need to say a thing – the public and bar owners shut down the disrespectful idea quickly – but it would fall under the heading of “commercial or personal gain.”
The same media outlet reported Nov. 2 that a group of knitters in Fredericton did earn the legion’s disapproval. What did they do? Donate time and materials to craft reusable poppies, with plans for all proceeds to go the legion.
Newspapers aren’t in the business of taking money away from veterans – we aren’t selling a poppy alternative for profit, but marking the significance of Nov. 11 with respect. After all, if a poppy can is stolen or a branch is short of volunteers for the poppy campaign, reporters are often the first people to publicize and assist the legion.
With limited volunteer resources and, one hopes, a financial interest in providing for veterans, not lawyers, this seems overzealous enforcement of trademark policy.
If the philosophy of the poppy campaign is to raise awareness and funds for veterans, over-policing the use of a cultural symbol seems to be counterproductive.
We have to agree with the conclusions of media lawyer Bob Tarantino in his 2006 article on the confusion and complications around protection of the poppy as an important cultural symbol, without overly restricting its use.
“Some form of protection for the poppy symbol is appropriate: to discourage use by unscrupulous individuals or prevent it being associated with endeavours which reflect poorly on the memory of the veterans it is meant to honour. Would it not be better if the poppy were protected in some fashion, such that it’s use in commercial activities was prohibited, but that non-commercial use by people of goodwill wishing to take part in a Canadian tradition be allowed (even encouraged)?”