The Canadian penny recently crossed the one cent USD threshold for the first time in a long time. Now comes news that the Royal Canadian Mint is asserting that pictures of it are worth a lot more.
Boing Boing and the Globe and Mail have the story that the Canadian Mint is attempting to assert intellectual property rights in pictures of Canadian pennies and use of the phrase "one cent" in a Toronto fundraising campaign. Seems wrongheaded, but one question not discussed is whether this could fly in the US.
The quick answer to whether a picture of a US penny is copyright infringement in the US is no. Under US copyright law a picture of a coin may be protectable based on the protection of the image on the coin itself, but if that image is the work of the US Government, then it is not protectable in the US because of 17 USC 105 which reads:
Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.
You might get the opposite answer if the coin was developed by a non-employee and was not a work for hire, or if the copies were made outside of the US (for example, if Toronto had used a US penny in its campaign), or if US copies were made of Canadian coins. And that doesn't even begin to address the potential for a claim in trademark.
In each case, regardless of the legal analysis, enforcement would be wrongheaded.
Update: Howard Knopf has an very smart post on this subject in the Canadian context with the further suggestion that the image on the coin may have rejoined the public domain in Canada because it may have been "authored" in 1937. Also, his title is better than mine: "Excessive Non Cents about "One Cent""
Image of Canadian penny courtesy of miguelb who also has a website.
Posted by macgill on 10/05/2007 [ ]