Sunday, October 30, 2011

There are overprotective trademark lawyers, and then ... there's the Legion

It is just me, or has the Royal Canadian Legion become a laughing stock for calling in the trademark lawyers to go after -- ready for this -- a group of veteran bikers who raise awareness about the sacrifices the men and uniform make for those of us who don't have the courage to.   Why?  Because of the group's emblem -- a soldier kneeling, rifle in hand, with a helmet on which is emblazoned a poppy; against the maple leaf in background.   Seems that the poppy is legally trademarked and the RCL is flipping mad about that.

A few things.   First, the poppy the group uses isn't the one familiar to most Canadians -- a felt four petal poppy with a black centre.   The bikers are using the British poppy, which looks more free-form in style and is made of plastic.   (There too the style changes depending on where you are -- in Scotland it's a curled four petal; in England, Wales and Northern Ireland it's a flat two petal with a green stem.)

Second -- the bikers are veterans themselves and are trying to raise awareness for the cause of remembrance as well as supporting our troops overseas.    They're not in it for themselves

Third, this isn't the Red Cross, the Red Crescent or the Red Crystal (which all refer to the same general international neutral humanitarian movement).    All of these, along with the currently dormant Red Lion and Sun (for Iran, until the coming of Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 when he replaced it with the Red Crescent), have the highest level of protection under Canadian law -- in fact the Trademark Act refers to those symbols quite specifically.   Any commercial use of the red symbols that might confuse people into thinking a product or service is endorsed by the Red Cross should of course be addressed.

There are a few other symbols that get specific protection under  law -- royal crests, the coats of arms of Canada, the provinces and cities, current and past Governors General, the Mounties and so forth.   So is the poppy under its articles of incorporation (to be clear, the one specific poppy design we're familiar with in Canada and its reverse colours), but I don't think Parliament ever intended the RCL to become the equivalent of the Tongue Troopers -- um, L'Office québécois de la langue française.   There can be no confusing this poppy (the British poppy) with the poppy used in Canada.   And remembrance is a civic duty for all, it is not the sole monopoly of the Legion.

Does this mean if I post a poppy, along with the poem "In Flanders Fields" on Remembrance Day, as do so many bloggers worldwide, I am breaking copyright law?    I mean, get real.   I can understand now why a growing number of people wear the white poppy as a sign of protest against all wars.   This custom has been going on since 1926 but it has increasingly curried favour among many.

Should the bikers have asked for permission?   Technically, yes, perhaps.   But a sledgehammer strategy does no good for anyone.    We honour the dead by trying to live lives of peace even as we prepare for wars we may not want to fight; but that does not mean sending in the Fourth Mechanized Lawyers' Battalion.   Overreacting over "religious headgear" is what brought disrepute to the Legion a number of years ago, and now this.   No wonder so many veterans don't want anything to do with the RCL and I can't blame them one jot.

Just shake hands and leave well enough alone, guys.   After all, you fought for all of us, not the party in power when you fought.

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