Postal Updates

By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent

Proposed USPS rules could impact images appearing on computer-vended stamps

February 07, 2017 10:15 AM

  • This rejected Zazzle.com stamp design, a political comment against the Supreme Court’s controversial 2010 Citizens United ruling, is at the center of a lawsuit that the stamp’s designer brought against the United States Postal Service. In early February, the USPS announced in the Federal Register proposed new rules that would restrict the use of images on computer-generated postage stamps.

By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent

The United States Postal Service wants new rules on what types of images can be placed on computer-generated postage stamps sold by Stamps.com, Zazzle.com, and other firms.

The proposed regulations were announced Jan. 5 in the Federal Register.

They come after a New England artist accused the USPS in a lawsuit of allowing firms selling such postage too much leeway in rejecting stamp designs.

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Artist Anatol Zukerman of Plymouth, Mass., is challenging the USPS over the way Zazzle was allowed to reject a design for 40 computer-generated stamps that would have promoted a display of his art in Washington, D.C.

A judge has rejected the Postal Service’s request to move the case to the Postal Regulatory Commission.

The new rules don’t mention that legal challenge, but say that the regulations would “create standardized definitions, requirements and procedures” for what the USPS calls “customized postage products.”

Among the prohibitions is a provision seeking to draw a line between the Postal Service’s stamps and the computer-generated stamps.

“Providers must not refer to customized postage products as ‘stamps’ or make any other representation tending to imply that customized postage products are related in any way to official U.S. postage stamps or to any aspect of the Postal Service philatelic program,” the rule states.

Specifically banned under the proposal, apparently drafted by the Postal Service’s “payment technology” staff, would be:

“Any image” that might violate someone else’s copyright, trademarks, or “rights of publicity or privacy.”

“Any depiction of political, religious, violent or sexual content, including content not suitable for minors.”

“Any depiction of any other subject matter prohibited for display under U.S. law.”

Furthermore, images must be “commercial” or “social.”

Commercial means “intended for no other purpose than sales of good or services in commerce,” the proposal says.

Social was defined as “promoting or depicting people, animals, items or events commonly associated with friendly relations or companionship and likely to generate invitations, announcements, notes, thank you notes, RSVPs, or similar correspondence.”

The Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers has strongly objected to the two categories of customized postage, saying it would “essentially prohibit a third category: nonprofits.”

In a filing with the USPS, David M. Levy, a lawyer for the alliance, argued the proposed rules would discriminate against nonprofits.

“The costs of this self-inflicted problem would not be trivial for the Postal Service,” he said.

Nonprofits account for about one-tenth of all mail generated in the United States, Levy said.

Mark Saunders, a postal spokesman, declined to comment on the proposed rules.

“The notice is our official position on the cause of the regulation change,” Saunders said.

“We have nothing to add to what was published in the Federal Register and we have nothing to say about active litigation.”