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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mandela Licenses Face to Pay Off ANC Debts

NEW YORK -- South African President Nelson Mandela has become the first popularly elected world leader to license his name, signature and likeness for commercial purposes. The licensing agreement, signed with the African National Congress, will raise money for South Africa -- as well as free speech issues. "It's kind of unprecedented," said Susan Reuter, show director for Expocon Management Associates Inc., which is managing the international licensing conference in New York this week. "Except for sports figures, usually you're dead before you get licensed." Not always. The pope licensed himself nearly a decade ago, marketing papal comics and holy water to help fund a European tour. Britain's royals have had a form of licensing for years, marked by the phrase "By appointment to ... " Mandela's contract, signed about five months ago, lends his name and likeness to promote the ANC's collection of "Freedom Art." Profits will go to a "Democracy Fund," first to pay the multimillion-dollar debt incurred by the ANC's pre-election voter education campaign, and later to human services. The licensing of Mandela is an attempt by the cash-strapped ruling party to benefit from the president's enormous popularity. Dawn Zain, the ANC's director of international fund-raising, noted ruefully that there is "not as much funding for a political party as for a liberation movement." It's also an effort to protect Mandela's image, which the ANC believes is damaged by rampant commercial exploitation. "He was put on liquor bottles, antifeminist things, things that went against the ANC charter, things with no taste," Zain said. In South Africa, his face even appears on bathroom mats. Through its South African marketing representative, Axial Tradex, the ANC has a two-year agreement with New York-based licensing agency The Beanstalk Group Inc. to market the Mandela license worldwide. Beanstalk also handles Harley-Davidson. Michael Stone, Beanstalk's cochairman, said that in conjunction with the art collection tour, the agency is planning postcards, limited edition prints and T-shirts, to be sold only in select locations. "We're not going to be doing souvenir kinds of products," he said. Zain said the ANC and Mandela "have the right to veto every product, every image. We signed the contract to control the use of his image." But control may be impossible. "The goal is obviously admirable," said Robert Kraus, a New York City attorney specializing in copyright, trademarks and licensing. "But the question in the States and other countries is whether they'll be able to enforce it." One company has already come out with an unauthorized Mandela product: a prepaid telephone card featuring a Mandela inauguration picture. For each minute of calling time used, one U.S. cent will go to a South African educational trust, the company says. The card is produced by the fourth-largest U.S. long-distance company, LDDS Metromedia, together with Made In USA, which promotes trade and investment in South Africa. The telephone card illustrates the difficulties of trademark enforcement. Neither the ANC nor The Beanstalk Group were even aware of the Mandela telephone card until told of it by a reporter. South African businessman David Altman, president of Made In USA, says he got Mandela's photograph from the ANC, but says it was not until after he had talked with LDDS that he thought to contact Mandela. "I wanted to do something nice, and I kept myself at arm's length from the money," he said. "It never even occurred to me that Mandela's face would be exploited for the political party." Beanstalk and the ANC are considering asking LDDS to halt production of the card, and the long-distance carrier said it would stop production if asked, even though its legal department says there's no violation of law. For famous faces, legal recourse is limited and often deemed more time-consuming that it is worth. "It goes on every day in the States," Kraus said. "People use the image of sitting political figures for commercial gain, and that is a violation. Usually the politicians don't complain." Depending on the product, the First Amendment makes it difficult for a political plaintiff to win. "Where political commentary goes into commercial gain, it isn't black and white," Kraus said. Depiction of a politician on a T-shirt, for example, would likely be protected by U.S. courts as a form of free speech.