Hot Links
Message Board
Article Archives
APS Application
APS Chapter Homepages

Message Board Home Bookstore Links

Licensing and the Cachetmaker

Celebrities on stamps can pose problems for first day cachetmakers.

Courts have upheld a celebrity's right to control, and charge for, use of his or her name, image and public persona. When that person dies, the right lives on, the intellectual property (as this area of law is called) of the estate.

Newspapers can claim "fair use" - a journalistic right to use copyrighted material - but first day covers aren't news publications.

The U.S. Postal Service says it tries to educate rights-holders about how small and unprofitable the first day cover cachetmaking business really is. Other than some of the majors like ArtCraft, Artmaster, and Fleetwood, few cachetmakers earn a living wage at the trade, unsubsidized by other income.

The results of the USPS indoctrination for estates have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. Edgar Bergen's family in effect told cachetmakers to have a good time; others have asked only to see and approve the designs before production.

And some have asked for money. Attorney Roger Richman, representing the Marilyn Monroe estate, sought minimum licensing fees of $2,500. Soon after the stamp was issued, Richman was replaced as agent for the estate. There are indications Postal Service officials went over his head to Anna Strasberg, executor of the estate and daughter of Monroe's friend and mentor Lee Strasberg, to complain about the fees.

Marilyn Monroe
Some cachetmakers, such as Pugh Cachets, paid $2,500 or more to the attorney handling the estate of Marilyn Monroe at the time the stamp was issued...
...and some didn't. This FDC is unsigned.
(Click images for full size views)

Most requests for fees, however, are more reasonable.

Why would cachetmakers go to the trouble and expense of licensing any cachets, when most are such small businesses that taking them to court is a waste of time and money? First, fighting such a legal battle can be costly. Large corporations often have attorneys on staff, already being paid whether they work or not, while agents often are attorneys. Mom and Pop cachetmakers don't have those resources.

Second, while the large, professional cachetmakers are better targets, most small cachetmakers are unincorporated "sole proprietorships" - if they win, plaintiffs can go after the defendants' other assets. While this may be unlikely, it is possible, and paying the license fees may be a small price for peace of mind.

And, third, if a cachetmaker wishes to remain underground, it cuts down on the advertising and marketing that is possible.

Tweety & Sylvester Among the U.S. issues likely to requiring royalties in order to produce cachets in 1998 are Alfred Hitchcock, Tweety & Sylvester, and the First World Series in "Celebrate the Century."

Winter Sports The Postal Service neatly sidestepped licensing problems - for itself and for cachetmakers - with the Olympics in 1998 by issuing a "Winter Sports" stamp that features Alpine Skiing. No mention is made of the "O" word, nor are there five inter-locking rings in the design. In the past, the International and U.S. Olympic Committees and local organizing committees have been contentious in allowing Olympic stamps and covers.

Lloyd A. de Vries
© 1997 Lloyd A. de Vries

Virtual Stamp Club Home Page