Royal Mail stamps down on postage art

The Royal Mail has threatened legal action against an art gallery for selling mock-stamp prints that feature the Queen wearing a gas mask.

The Royal Mail has threatened legal action against an art gallery for selling mock-stamp prints that feature the Queen wearing a gas mask.

Artist James Cauty created the series of prints, entitled Black Smoke, Stamps of Mass Destruction, in the run up to the war in Iraq. The prints feature the well-known bust of the Queen featured on stamps, but picture her wearing a gas mask underneath her crown.

The Royal Mail first wrote to Artrepublic, the Brighton gallery displaying and selling the work, in May and ordered it to remove the prints from both its shop and website. The work infringed the Royal Mail's copyright, the company said.

"The copyright of stamps are part of our intellectual property. They need to get a license from us to use them," the Royal Mail said today. "We sent them a letter asking them to stop."

The gallery said it received another letter on Friday, telling them to stop selling the prints by June 3, but the Royal Mail agreed to extend the deadline to this Friday to allow the gallery to seek legal advice. The gallery said it intends to fight the action.

Artrepublic continued to offer Mr Cauty's Black Smoke prints for sale on its website today, with the first, second and third class versions selling for £470 each. Lawrence Alkin, the chief executive officer of Artrepublic, said the gallery had already sold 23 of the prints before the publicity over the Royal Mail's legal moves began.

"This is the biggest reaction I've had to art, and I've been in the business over 20 years," he said.

James Cauty responded: "I am just an artist doing my job. Are the Royal Mail trying to infringe my artistic freedom?"

However Stuart Lockyear, a partner at law firm Davenport Lyons, said the Royal Mail seemed to have a strong case for copyright infringement. He said there was a possible defence of fair dealing, but that was generally used for literary works. Another possible route was the using the freedom of expression clause in the Human Rights Act, but that had never been tested in the UK, he said.

"Copyright is very strong in the UK, and there are not defences for using icons in the public domain," Mr Lockyear explained.

Sensitive to claims that the Royal Mail was attempting to censor a work of art, a company spokesman responded: "This has nothing to do with it being a work of art. This is about our intellectual property, and they do not have a right to use it without our permission."


Sarah Left

The GuardianTramp

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