Red poppies from the Royal Canadian Legion are a common sight at stores and on lapels across Canada leading up to Remembrance Day.
Also common this time of year? Poppy products sold online that are not authorized by the legion.
It is a growing problem for the organization, which has registered the trademark of the poppy image.
“It is extremely frustrating,” said Nujma Bond, a national spokesperson for the legion. “It happens every year at about this time where we get a lot of fraudulent websites and people coming up with various poppy-related products.”
Those products range from brooches to clothing, even cookies and doughnuts, says Bond.
This year, she says the legion has seen almost triple the number of unauthorized products compared to 2021.
“We’ve got close to 1,600 violations and those are the ones that we know of,” said Bond, adding she’s not sure what’s behind the spike.
The legion’s website notes that the organization has trademarked the image of the poppy to “safeguard” it as a symbol of remembrance.
According to the site, the remembrance poppy cannot be used “on consumer items such as products, apparel, art, or commemorative items or their packaging,” without authorization.
Bond said while some retailers may have good intentions and want to donate part of their proceeds to the legion, that’s not always the case.
“I feel as if it is an insult to those who have served, who are serving and have died for our country,” said Mike Turner. He served in the military for eight years and now helps organize the poppy campaign at a Royal Canadian Legion branch in Toronto.
“If that item is being sold for personal gain or personal profit, then it’s not going back to supporting the veterans or supporting the troops or supporting the people who may from time to time need some support.”
Turner said while not all veterans need help, some are dealing with PTSD, while others may not have a home or enough food to eat.
“What is lost is the funds that have the ability to change some of these people’s lives”
Bond said when the legion finds a product that is unauthorized often the retailer will take it down, but that process can be challenging if the seller is overseas.
Online poppy products
CBC News found dozens of poppy products that appear to infringe the legion’s trademark on the Canadian sites of Etsy, eBay and Amazon.
Etsy did not respond to CBC’s request for comment.
A spokesperson for eBay, Leslie Walsh, said the company is reaching out to the legion to inform it about a program to help remove copyrighted items.
“With input from the Royal Canadian Legion, we can move quickly to remove such listings.”
An Amazon spokesperson responded to CBC via email, saying Amazon respects the intellectual property rights of others.
“In this case, we have removed products that allegedly infringe the Royal Canadian Legion’s poppy trademarks and apologize for any distress this has caused them.”
Trademark owner must police use
When it comes to protecting a trademark, law professor Florian Martin-Bariteau said it’s up to the owner to “police the use.”
Martin-Bariteau, who teaches at the University of Ottawa and is a fellow at Harvard University, said online retailers like Amazon have “no liability” if they are acting as an intermediary, meaning the product is being sold by a third-party.
“They don’t have to do anything to control what is sold on the platform.”
Once the online retailer is notified of a trademark infringement, he said it should remove the product in a “timely manner.”
For those who do want to create poppy related products, the legion’s Bond said it is best to contact the organization first.
“We can help them and determine whether or not it is a product that we could support.”
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