Folk musician says he's 'embarrassed' for Canada over penny dispute with mint

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PICTOU, N.S. - A Nova Scotia folk musician whose penny-inspired album has raised the ire of the Royal Canadian Mint says the entire fuss has left him feeling sheepish.

Dave Gunning said Wednesday he was informed by the mint that his soon-to-be released album infringes copyright because its artwork includes images of the ubiquitous one-cent piece.

In recent days, Gunning — who describes himself as "a proud Canadian" — has told his story of being nickel-and-dimed by the mint to media outlets across Canada and the United States.

"Part of me is a little bit embarrassed about it," Gunning said from Pictou, N.S. "Not embarrassed for myself, necessarily, but embarrassed for Canada a little bit."

The award-winning singer said his album, titled "No More Pennies," is meant as an homage to the humble coin, which the mint plans to stop producing this fall though it remains legal tender.

He said the mint was "very kind" to waive licensing and administration fees for the first 2,000 albums produced, but his next batch of CDs will cost him $1,200 — or 60 cents a pop.

That's no penny ante for an independent artist, he said.

"They're chasing down this folk singer for 60 cents a CD," said Gunning, who has won at the East Coast Music Awards and the Canadian Folk Music Awards.

Gunning is urging fans to donate their spare pennies, which he said will be delivered to the mint. The soft-spoken singer said he plans to give $1,200 of his own money to a Halifax children's hospital.

Mint spokeswoman Christine Aquino did not rule out waiving the fee altogether, but said the agency is trying to protect its intellectual rights.

"Similar to an author who's written a book or a musician who's produced a song, we're protecting our property," she said.

"We're not preventing Dave from commemorating the penny through his album. The issue is simply with the use of the image."

The album, set for release next Tuesday, was recorded in Pictou and Halifax earlier this year. Its artwork includes a penny, representing the sun, disappearing behind the horizon. In another picture, the copper-plated coins are depicted as wheels on a steam locomotive.

Ironically, Gunning said he only discovered the error of his ways after a fan — who happens to work at the mint — suggested selling the album at the agency's gift shop in Ottawa, thinking it was the perfect fit for other currency-related merchandise.

The same worker later called Gunning, sounding sheepish that he had inadvertently turned the musician in.

Michael Wrycraft, the album's designer, said he's well aware of copyright rules, but didn't think anyone would kick up a fuss over "grubby little pieces of copper that everyone has in their pockets."

He said the biggest surprise has been the $1,200 fee, which amounts to about two-thirds the cost of manufacturing 2,000 CDs.

"I think we all just blithely and naively waltzed in thinking it wouldn't matter — it's the penny," Wrycraft, who's been working in the business for almost 20 years, said from Toronto.

"We were trying to give a fond farewell to our Canadian penny. We thought it would be romantic, we thought it would be sweet."

Wrycraft has altered the artwork for the next round of CDs, but it still includes depictions of the penny, though the side showing the Queen is not displayed.

Gunning, who's already back in the studio working on other projects, said he's eager to move on.

"Two weeks ago I was so excited about this record," he said. "And now when I look at the CD I feel sick. I kind of want it go away. I want to go back to my music."

— By Melanie Patten in Halifax

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