New rules for computer-generated postage rile some
Washington Postal Scene by Bill McAllister
Some mailers are not happy with the Postal Service’s final proposal, printed in the Federal Register on Dec. 19.
“A lump of coal,” decried the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers.
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The organization complained the new rules will allow commercial mailers to use almost any commercial display of their products but will discourage nonprofits from expressing their views in the form of postage.
In a Dec. 19 report, the Alliance said, “Apparently, its attorneys are worried that some nonprofit subjects could be ‘threats to the Postal Service brand,’ and it would be ‘impermissible viewpoint discrimination, which would endanger the whole program.’”
What types of images are allowed on the computer-generated postage have already prompted lawsuits that challenge the refusal to allow some images as a violation of free speech rights granted by the Constitution.
But the Postal Service has held fast to its proposed ban on political advertising on postage.
The rules ban “any depiction of political, religious, violent or sexual content.”
Postal lawyers maintain that any provider of computer-generated postage must be careful to separate their products, called customized postage, from postage stamps.
“Providers must not promote Customized Postage products as ‘U.S. stamps’ or make any representations 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 rules say.
The Postal Service also rejected concerns voiced by Stamps.com that it might be required to change its name or trademarks because of the new rules.
“Neither the proposed nor the final rules require alteration of provider trademarks,” the final rules state.
“The requirement that providers disassociate Customized Postage products from U.S. stamps is intended to protect official USPS stamps and philatelic products and programs from consumer confusion related to the status of Customized Postage products, which are a specialized form of evidence of prepayment of postage,” the revisions state.
“The final rules simply require providers not to ‘promote’ Customized Postage products as being official U.S. postage stamps,” the USPS said.
What troubled the Alliance most was the deference the Postal Service paid to commercial organizations, compared to nonprofits, which were placed under a “social” category.
“Commercial” was defined by the USPS as a “means intended for no purpose other than the sale of goods or services in commerce.”
Social “means promoting or depicting people, animals, items, or events commonly associated with community relations or companionship and likely to generate invitations, announcements, notices, thank-you notes, RSVPs, or similar correspondence.”
What is specifically banned?
“(i) Any non-incidental depiction of alcohol, tobacco, gambling, or firearms or other weapons;
“(ii) Any depiction of controlled substances, including but not limited to marijuana,
“(iii) Any depiction of political, religious, violent or sexual content; or
“(iv) Any depiction of subject matter prohibited for display under U.S. law.”
The rules also ban use of logos of beer and alcoholic beverages.
“Although allowing incidental depictions of alcohol in a commercial or social context is acceptable under the final rules, allowing the non-incidental display of logos promoting alcoholic beverage sales creates more brand risks, and arguably opens other commercial categories that the Postal Service may be compelled to accept by First Amendment principles, e.g., logos promoting tobacco, weapons, or gambling enterprises.”
The rules rejected the Alliance’s complaint of preference to commercial firms, saying that nonprofits would be allowed the same freedom to purchase computer-generated postage as would any mailer.
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