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The Yellow and Black Smiley Face

2014.01.21 10:51

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On the internet these days you see a lot of young people making extensive use of smiley faces and emoticons, icons that add emotion and feeling to text communication, as well as help avoid misunderstandinds of nuance. They are used extensively in email, chat messages, and bulletin board and forum posts. But the yellow smiley face that lies at the root of all those internet emoticons has a real history to it that few people know about.

The yellow and black smiley face design that we are all so familiar with was first created by artist Harvey Ball in 1963, for an advertising campaign of State Mutual Life Insurance. But the smiley didn't become widely popular until Bernard and Murray Spain began using it as a design for novelty items in the 1970s. Featuring the pleasant catchphrase "Have a happy day", some of the best-selling products included coffee mugs, t-shirts, stickers, buttons and badges, etc. This simple yet potent message and matching image were a clear reminder to the average working person to enjoy every day of their lives, rather than getting lost in the stress of the hustle and bustle.

A number of people and parties have tried to claim the smiley icon as their own, including the massive corporation Walmart. In 2006 Walmart made use of the smiley in a big promotional campaign and made an attempt to copyright the smiley in the USA. This caused a standoff between Harvey Ball, in addition to another party called "Smiley World" that licenses the rights to the image in many other countries. Walmart gave up its claim to the icon in 2008 when a judge ruled that they did not own the long-standing image. After the case, Walmart gradually stopped using the yellow smiley in its advertising campaigns and removed it from its website.

It makes sense that such a simple image could have been simultaneously produced by different people's imaginations with

no knowledge of the others.|With the smiley being such an incredibly simple image, it's natural that many people lay claim to
the image and claim they created it, even though other people's imaginations also created it at the same time.|It goes without saying that such a simple image can be developed simultaneously by the minds of several unrelated people who don't know of each other, and that they would all lay claim to the idea.|The smiley is such an incredinly simple image that there is little doubt that multiple imaginations could have "created" the same icon, so it makes sense that there are multiple copyright claims. But the best solution is probably to give copyright title to Harvey Ball, since he gives all proceeds from the smiley face to charity. His kindness and generosity are wonderful reflections of the spirit of the image and its positivity.
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