Entry for May 08, 2006

Why the smiley face?  According to  LA Times writer Abigail Goldman in her May 7 story, “Wal-Mart Vies for Right to Put on a Happy Face, ” the retailer is suing a Frenchman over his trademark claim.  I don’t think Wal-Mart should have the rights, but neither should Franklin Loufrani, who has earned milliions in other countries licensing the symbol after registering as a trademark.  According to the Times,

the man widely credited with creating smiley was the late Harvey Ball, a Massachusetts graphic artist who was commissioned by an insurer in 1963 to reduce bad blood among employees after the company merged with a rival.

The original concept was just for the smile. Ball told the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, Mass., in 1997 that he added the eyes so that a disgruntled employee couldn’t turn the smile upside down to make a frown.

For his efforts, Ball earned little more than a song and a smile: $45.

By the time Ball thought to copyright the design in the 1970s, his happy face had already been reproduced at least 50 million times, making it part of the public domain. Since then, Kentucky has added smiley to its license plate, and the U.S. Postal Service issued a smiley stamp in 1999 as part of a tribute to the ’70s.

Seems to me it’s still part of the public domain and should remain so.  Notes Andrew Gumbel in his May 8 article for the UK’s  Independent, “Wal-Mart fights for ‘smiley’ ownership,”

The privatisation of the English language has been under way for some time – the battle is merely moving to the sphere of symbols.

On a note, worthy of the frowny face, the Senate is considering the nomination of Air Force general and former NSA chief  Michael Hayden to head the CIA.  As I watched today  on CNN as  Russ Feingold talked about his reservations to the National Press Club, the California senator was endorsing the nomination.   

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