Should a smile cost nothing?

Monday, May 8th, 2006

The best bit about this story is the detail about the creator of the World Smile Foundation (“making the world better one smile at a time”) taking someone to court because they used a similar logo. Oh the irony…

It’s enough to wipe the smile off anyone’s face. The world’s biggest retailer is locked in a bitter court battle with a French trademark entrepreneur over the rights to the smiley logo, writes David Fickling.

The smiley, which readers may associate with anything from instant messaging emoticons to terrorism to, inevitably, ecstasy pills, has been the subject of bad-tempered courtroom battles for years.

The latest is a dispute between Wal-Mart, which uses the logo in its superstores, and Franklin Loufrani, a former journalist who claims to have invented the invented the symbol in the wake of the 1968 Paris evenements as a way of designating cheery news stories to readers. (An ironic footnote: Wal-Mart sponsors a similar happy-news segment on America’s ABC television, although it does not use the smiley logo for those stories.)

Added to the mix is American advertiser and graphic designer Harvey Ball, who claims to have designed a smiley logo before Loufrani and set up the slightly pollyannaish World Smile Foundation to “improve this world, one smile at a time” before his death in 2001. In that positive spirit, in the late 1990s he threatened to take Loufrani to court for his copyright activities.

Coming at the same time as today’s judgment of a dispute between the Beatles’ Apple record label and Apple computers over the use of the Apple trademark on iPod music players, the smiley news seems a further step towards the copyrighting of everyday life.

Without wanting to make any extravagant claims for the peacemaking potential of the icon, you have to wonder whether all this litigation is what smileys were really meant to be about. Can’t we just be nice to each other?”

(Via The Guardian.)

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