The View from Sherlock Peoria (157)
June 5, 2005
The Return of the Photo Stamp
In the May issue of Peter Blau's Scuttlebutt is word of the revival of the USPS photo stamp at Stamps.com. The first time out, you may recall, Sherlockians didn't take advantage of the opportunity to finally get a U.S. stamp with Sherlock Holmes on it. Our window of opportunity last time was mere months, but this time we have a whole year. Or do we?
Check out the "Content Restrictions" at Stamps.com, and you'll find these commandments:
"You agree not to use the PhotoStamps website
So does that mean we can use Sherlock Holmes on a stamp in the photo stamp program, or not? Plainly, you can't use any image of Sherlock Holmes as portrayed by an actor, or drawn by an artist whose work you don't have rights to. But what of Sherlock Holmes himself? Say you somehow got a picture of Holmes himself? He's still a celebrity, right?
Well, if you got a picture of Sherlock Holmes himself, he'd be a celebrity. If you can't get a picture of him, the Doyle estate is going to claim him as intellectual property. So we have the possibility that Sherlock Holmes is going to be outlawed from his stamp by one of two possible restrictions, and here's where it gets interesting.
Now, you can be a respectful admirer of Conan Doyle and say, "Holmes is intellectual property, and saying otherwise is just silly, if not delusional." Or you be a wacky, whimsical sort and go with the "Holmes was, and still is, a celebrity." But you aren't the one that gets to decide.
If you send your electronic picture of Holmes in to Stamps.com, some minor functionary in that organization is going to be the one who looks at the picture and goes, "Celebrity, no can do!" or "Do you have the permission of the Doyle estate to use their intellectual property?" As with any judicial system, business, or day-to-day action, your stamp's fate is going to be decided upon by the judgement call of one human being. And we just can't be sure which way that one human being is going to go.
That's the great thing about Sherlock Holmes -- people are still confused on whether he was real or fictional. And you don't know which way anyone, including the flunkie at Stamps.com, is going to approach Holmes, if they even recognize him as "Sherlock Holmes." Because that's the truly worst and best case outcome of your attempt to get Holmes on a stamp via Stamps.com -- if the arbiter of stamp worthiness doesn't even recognize Holmes enough to think there is an issue.
Your humble correspondent,