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Dave Gunning performs at the East Coast Music Awards dress rehearsal Sunday, Feb. 20, 2005 in Sydney, N.S. (JACQUES BOISSINOT/CP)
Dave Gunning performs at the East Coast Music Awards dress rehearsal Sunday, Feb. 20, 2005 in Sydney, N.S. (JACQUES BOISSINOT/CP)

Music

Canadian folk singer fighting with the Mint over pennies Add to ...

A strapped-for-cash Canadian folk musician would like to use coppery coins for his album artwork, but it might cost him a pretty penny to make it happen.

Dave Gunning, an award-winning Nova Scotia singer-songwriter, has been told by the Royal Canadian Mint that in order to use the images of pennies with his new record (No More Pennies), he will need their permission.

“I can’t afford to pay them,” says Gunning, a 39-year-old troubadour. “I’m a folk musician in Canada. I have a family with three kids.”

After an initial run of 2000 albums had already been produced, Gunning was notified that he’d need to to pay $1,200 for the rights to the penny image. After Gunning spoke to CBC Radio One’s Mainstreet Halifax about the fee and a “penny drive” to cover the costs, the Mint waived the royalty.

The ubiquitous currency will no longer be circulated in Canada as of Feb. 4, 2013. No More Pennies, Gunning’s 10th album, is, in his words, a “heartfelt tribute to the passing of the penny.” The vanishing of the loosest of loose change is a metaphor for the passing of time.

Although the copyright fee for the album’s initial run of 2,000 albums was waived, the Mint has conditions tied to any future copies of the CD. Gunning has made the requested alterations to the original design and has resubmitted his application for permission to use the one-cent likenesses. The Mint will now decide on what amount, if any, it will charge the musician. “We’re not preventing Dave Gunning from commemorating the penny through his album,” says Christine Aquino, the Mint’s communications director. “The issue is the use of the image, and we’ll be working with him on that.”

A fee for the reproduction of such an image is standard business practice, but the original high charge in this case makes no sense, according to Gunning. “It’s not like we’re selling the product based on the artwork.”

To put the original proposed fee in perspective, if Gunning were to use someone else’s song on his album, he would pay that other songwriter eight cents per CD. The penny-pinching Mint, on the other hand, planned to charge Gunning 60 cents per CD.

The album’s artwork was created by Toronto’s Michael Wrycraft, a Juno award-winning designer who is astonished over the proposed fee. “That was honestly one of the most unfair leveling of outrageously high mechanical royalties that I’ve ever heard of,” said Wrycraft, whose almost 500 commissions grace the CD packages of artists such as Bruce Cockburn, Stompin’ Tom Connors and Gordon Lightfoot.

Gunning is asking fans to bring pennies to his concerts this fall, with the money raised going to the IWK Children’s Hospital in Halifax. “I’m not asking people to pay my way,” he says.

Albums by folk artists routinely sell for $20 at festivals and concerts. On the back of the Canadian twenty-dollar bill, one can read the following aphorism from the Bank of Canada: “Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the artists.”

The Mint, to be fair, does not charge charities or educational institutions for use of its copyrighted images. As for what it plans to charge Gunning for his next batch of albums, a penny for their thoughts.

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