Moleeds, stamps and copyrights


Charles Fleischer's very recent stand-up number at TED Talks is based on stamps. He claims that this is so because he doesn't have to worry about copyrights. We happen to disagree.

Here’s how TED introduces the presentation below:

In a presentation that can only be described as epic, comedian Charles Fleischer delivers a hysterical send-up of a time-honored TED theme: the map. Geometry, numbers, charts and stamp art also factor in (somehow), as he weaves together a unique theory of everything called "Moleeds." presentation is designed to make fun of scientists and the scientific method and more importantly, of the disconnect they sometimes experience from everyday people’s points of view. We’re also being told that stamps are featured prominently because he (Charles Fleischer) doesn’t have to worry about copyrights. And that might be true, since stamp designs are most likely owned by the Postal Service (not the musical group) which is almost everywhere a governmental organization.

While this was probably a joke, we looked at whether this is true or not. And we found a question asked and answered on a webmaster forum:

5:27 am on June 18, 2006 (utc 0)

There are several postage stamps from a variety of countries that are 'relevant' to my site. All across the web, I see stamp collecting sites that scan and post images of stamps. Is it legal to post blue widget stamps on my blue widget page (visual content)?

11:15 am on June 19, 2006 (utc 0)

Hmm, can't believe I actually tracked down and emailed a group head of IP at the UK's Royal Mail to find out more about this... :-)

My interpretation is:

In the broadest of terms the following applies to the reproduction of stamps in the UK and USA.

stamps are subject to copyright. In many cases stamps are also trademarked (the Penny Black, for example). In order to reproduce them in any form you must apply to the postal service (Royal Mail/USPS) for a special licence relative to the application of the reproduction.

Dependent, there may be fees involved (primarily administration fees). The process will likely involve submitting for approval the design in which a reproduction is incorporated.

As stated, this is only my interpretation based on what I've learnt; the best thing to do is some homework:

Links (if allowed): Royal Mail reproduction guidelines, USPS Licensing.

Hope that's of some use.


That says it all.

Sources / More info: ted-fleischer, wmw-stamps, yt-moleeds

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