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Ad campaign could cost city a pretty penny

Royal Canadian Mint advises Toronto it needs permission and to pay a fee to use cent image


October 5, 2007

The Royal Canadian Mint is looking for a pound of flesh from Toronto, after the city failed to ask permission - or pay the required fee - to use the image of a penny in an ad campaign designed to wring tax dollars out of Ottawa.

Both the city and the Mint said yesterday they are “in negotiation” over the city’s prominent use of the penny in posters, bumper stickers and buttons, all touting Mayor David Miller’s campaign to persuade Ottawa to pay municipalities one of every six cents in GST revenue collected there.

But one source close to the talks said that lawyers’ letters have been flying back and forth between the two. The outcome could be a bill for the city, likely amounting to a few thousand dollars.

Christine Aquino, spokeswoman for the Mint, said that soon after the city’s ads, which feature a blown-up photograph of a shiny new penny, started appearing on bus shelters and in TTC vehicles, the Mint advised the city that it needed to get approval for use of the image, which is the Mint’s intellectual property.

The city’s strategic communications director, Kevin Sack, confirmed that the city did not seek the Mint’s permission to use the penny’s image, which can even be found as a clickable icon on the City of Toronto website, linking to the official website for the One Cent NOW! campaign.

While Mr. Sack described the one cent campaign as educational, there appears to be room for argument between the Mint and the city about whether the city should have used the image and how much money it might be on the hook for.

Mint regulations require that, when a Mint product is used for advertising, “it is done tastefully, and is compatible with the public policy objectives of the federal Government.”

The Mint also requires that a user apply for the right to use the image, pay a application fee of “not less than $350” for processing the request, and a royalty of between 1 and 2½ per cent of the value of the advertising campaign.

Mr. Sack said that, since the city has agreements with the company that operates advertising on bus shelters and TTC vehicles to carry city publicity free of charge, the city did not pay for the four-month poster campaign.

But the Mint’s regulations say that, if there is no market purchase of advertising, the Mint will evaluate local advertising and promotional markets to determine the royalty fee - which in this case could reach thousands of dollars.

The campaign, launched in late February, has attracted widespread support for the idea of passing on GST-linked revenue to municipalities, including the backing of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.