Disney Stationery Animates a Postal Spat

By Cindy Skrzycki
Tuesday, June 27, 2006

To Douglas F. Carlson , his complaint with the U.S. Postal Service is no Mickey Mouse issue.

With regulatory and jurisdictional issues at stake over the pricing of special Disney postal stationery, Carlson, an attorney and stamp aficionado in California, has asked the Postal Rate Commission to look into the price of the stamped stationery.

Carlson's complaint centers on the Postal Service selling sheets of paper that can be folded into envelopes, sealed and mailed, for $14.95 a dozen. Each sheet is imprinted with a 37-cent "Art of Disney: Friendship" stamp. (And because of a recent increase in postal rates, the latest editions include 12 2-cent stamps.)

The cost of the package, far above the $4.68 face value of the stamps, outraged Carlson, who has filed other cases -- and won them -- against the Postal Service. The commission, in agreeing to hear the case, will look at whether the stamped stationery should be regarded as a postal service -- and thus be regulated by the commission, which effectively sets postal rates and mail classifications.

"I'm always focused on whether the Postal Service follows its own regulations as well as applicable statutes," said Carlson. "I want them to do what they are supposed to do. This looks like a postal service. If they are the exclusive provider of a public service, then there is a strong public interest and statutory obligation for regulation."

This case is bring watched by collectors and consumer advocates because it goes to the heart of what qualifies as a traditional, regulated postal service.

Generally, the commission does not get involved with pricing of products that are considered part of the stamp-collecting world or products for which there is competition -- such as packaging materials.

But it has to decide what falls under the definition of a postal service that is "incidental to the receipt, transmission or delivery by the Postal Service of correspondence, including, but not limited to, letters, printed matter and like materials."

The Postal Service said the stationery is not a postal product because it is a collectible, is printed on superior paper stock and has high artistic value. In other words, this is no plain, utilitarian stamped envelope, such as those regulated by the commission.

"The stationery is an optional product that encourages customers to use the mail. The price is competitive with similar items sold in the marketplace. The law does not provide the Postal Rate Commission with the authority to determine the artistic and philatelic value of stationery," said Mark Saunders , a spokesman for the Postal Service.

In its June 8 brief with the commission, the Postal Service argued that "the pre-printed stamp is almost incidental, because the main feature and principal source of demand is the stationery itself, including the unique artwork. In this light, the sale of high-quality stationery featuring licensed artwork is a very different animal from stamped envelopes and stamped cards."

Stamp collectors don't see it that way.

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