Helpful Information for Businesses Interested in Creating, Advertising, and Selling Replicas of U.S. Coins
This section provides important information for businesses that are interested in creating, advertising, and selling replicas of U.S. coins. There are a number of requirements and restrictions of which businesses must be aware, including counterfeiting laws, advertising requirements, and more.
Do consult with your attorney before embarking on any activity involving the reproduction of genuine United States coins.
Counterfeiting laws fall under the jurisdiction of the United States Secret Service and the United States Department of Justice, and appear at 18 U.S.C. §§ 486, et. seq. Existing laws generally cover those coins, tokens, devices, etc. (and their dies) that are intended either for use as genuine currency or are in similitude to United States or foreign coins. The laws apply equally to all coins, those coins currently in circulation, and those that are not.
The Hobby Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2101, et. seq., requires manufacturers of imitation numismatic items to mark plainly and permanently such items with the word "copy." Failure to do so may constitute an unfair or deceptive act or practice pursuant to the Federal Trade Commission Act. The Federal Trade Commission administers the Hobby Protection Act. If you need further assistance, you can contact Enforcement Division, Federal Trade Commission, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580; (202) 326-3038.
The term "coin" is commonly understood to be a piece of metal issued by governmental authority as money or legal tender. See Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, 1996 at 223. Coins are distinct from medals or medallions, which are pieces of metal marked with a device, but which have no monetary or legal tender value. The United States Constitution delegates the power to coin money to the United States Congress and even prohibits the states from coining money. See United States Const. Art. I, sec. 8, cl. 5, and sec. 10, cl. 2. Congress delegated this authority to the Secretary of the Treasury. See 31 U.S.C. § 5111, et. seq. As a result, only the United States Mint is authorized to manufacture United States coins. For all of the above reasons, the use of the term "coin" may mislead consumers as to the actual product being offered. Alternative terms such as "replica," "medal" or "medallion" should be used in order to avoid confusion.
Some businesses describe their replica products in such a way that results in confusion. Businesses should consider whether they are doing consumers a disservice by failing to disclose the nature of the product.
Disclaimers should be prominently displayed in advertisements and marketing materials, and set in an easily readable pitch and font. Disclaimers should expressly state that your business concern is not affiliated with the United States Government in any way. If the advertisement or marketing material features replicas of United States coinage, you should also note that the United States Government does not sponsor or endorse the featured products. Disclaimers should be placed immediately adjacent to or below the actual photograph of the replica used in the advertisement or marketing material, and should not be buried in "fine print" at the bottom of the advertisement or marketing material. Disclaimers should appear in a different color than the background of the photograph box and should be clear and noticeable. For additional suggestions, see United States v. The Washington Mint, LLC, et al., Civil No. 99-1768, 2001 WL1640073 (D. Minn. Sep. 5, 2001).
Disclaimers should expressly state that your business concern is not affiliated with the United States Government in any way, and should note that the United States Government does not sponsor or endorse the featured products. Disclaimers should be clear, legible and prominent, and should be placed at the beginning of the advertisement (close to the start of voiceover and first appearance of product graphics). Disclaimers should be presented simultaneously in both the audio and video portions of the advertisement. Audio disclaimers should be delivered in volume and cadence sufficient for an ordinary consumer to hear and understand. Video disclaimers should be of a size, shade and duration sufficient for an ordinary consumer to read and understand, with each disclaimer line placed against contrasting background. Attention should be paid to the selection of music and graphics background so as not to create an atmosphere that may suggest to consumers that the government is the source or sponsor of the product as it is being offered, especially as this may diminish the effectiveness of the disclaimers. For some disclaimer benchmarks see FCC Regulations 47 C.F.R. § 73.1212 (a)(2)(ii) and consult individual television network guidelines.
The United States Mint owns copyright in several commemorative and circulating coin designs. Although the copyright symbol does not appear on the coin itself, the United States Mint generally includes the symbol on marketing materials. Copyrighted coin designs include several designs used in the 1995-1996 Olympic Commemorative Coin Program, the 1995 Civil War Battlefield Commemorative Coin Program and the Golden Dollar (Sacagawea) coin obverse. Should your company wish to use a copyrighted design, you will need to contact Jean Gentry, Deputy Chief Counsel, United States Mint, 801 9th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20220. Requests can be faxed to (202) 756-6110. The United States Mint deems any unauthorized use of a United States Mint copyrighted design to constitute copyright infringement.
Registered trademarks include: United States Mint®," "United States Mint Proof Set®," "United States Mint Uncirculated Coin Set®," "Fort Knox Collection®," and "50 State Quarters®." The United States Mint also considers the terms "United States Mint Silver Proof Set™," "50 State Quarters Silver Proof Set™," "50 State Quarters Proof Set™," "50 State Quarters Uncirculated Set™," as well as the graphic logos associated with the 50 State Quarters™ Program, to be common law trademarks of the United States Mint. Copyright protection also exists with regard to the United States Mint's 50 State Quarters™ graphic logos. Please note that this does not represent a complete list of all United States Mint trademarks and copyrights. The United States Mint deems any unauthorized use of a United States Mint trademark or the use of a similar mark likely to cause confusion to constitute trademark infringement.
18 U.S.C. § 709 expressly prohibits such use in a manner reasonably intended to convey the impression that the advertisement is approved, endorsed, or authorized by the United States Mint. Pursuant to 31 U.S.C. § 333, the Secretary of Treasury may impose civil penalties of $5,000 ($25,000 for broadcast or telecast) for the use of the words "Department of Treasury" or "United States Mint" or any colorable imitation of such words, as part of an advertisement, solicitation, business activity or product, in any manner which could reasonably be construed as misleading the public that the product is in any way approved, endorsed, sponsored, authorized by or associated with the Treasury Department or United States Mint. Criminal penalties of $10,000 fine per use ($50,000 per broadcast or telecast) and up to one-year imprisonment may be assessed for knowing violations of this provision.
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