Who Owns the Red Cross Icon?

Attached are a bundle of articles about who owns the rights for reproduction for the iconic red cross symbol.

Included is commentary from Harry Allen, former Prescriptives colleague of mine and an article about Chris Hacker.

So, who does own the symbol?




I think this article has an explanation.

[EDIT] Related newspaper article here.

Dear Ricardo,

I presented the first article to my History of Graphic Design course last fall but find it does not answer the question of who owns this symbol.

From conversation with Harry Allen, the fact that the American Red Cross licenses the symbol to corporations who make commercial profit from it is not answered by the organization's lawyers stance that they are doing no wrong. Is it right for relief agencies to compete with for-profit industry?

I find this all a very sticky wicket, however, because of the good the American Red Cross does. Living in Katrina-land, and, counting down to a new hurricane season, I am reminded that the Red Cross is the ONLY American agency who, time and again, is called upon and does respond for disaster relief.

So, my question is, who is the grabby one? J&J for registering a universal symbol for commercial profit in the first place or the American Red Cross for overstepping past bounds?

It is my personal experience that in business, as with life, best practices need always to be evaluated periodically. Which is why I find this issue so interesting.

Hi, Nancy,

You bring up a lot of good questions. I've made modest donations to the Red Cross myself, because I too believe that they actually do something in times of natural and man-made disasters.

But even non-profits have to find ways to raise money so that they can continue to exist and do good, and that's where the sticky issues come up, I think. (I have mixed feelings about non-profits using for-profit methods, but that's just me.)

Slightly related: I remember that a few years ago, the band Red Kross had to change the way they spell their name due to a conflict with the Red Cross... I think the band The Postal Service had similar issues with the United States Postal Service.

But back to your original post. This New York Times article gives dates for when the American Red Cross and Johnson and Johnson each started using the symbol.

You can read a history of the use of the red cross and red crescent symbols here.

Hi Ricardo,

Thank you for the two additional links. I like the history of the cross and crescents.

I believe that the Red Cross has had a lot of management difficulties recently, something like two or three presidents having to resign within a year. I know that that is not an assignment I would be interested in fulfilling, balancing budgets trying to do the right thing in the face of enormous challenge.

Besides, I wouldn't consider a major corporation any expert in moral leadership. So, I think what they did to try to make money in the same manner as companies who now appear to be competition, is okay.

But, that's my opinion.

Turns out that I misspelled the name of one of the bands... It's Redd Kross. Brief mention of their name change here. I originally read about it in an early issue of Ray Gun magazine.

The Postal Service's conflict with the USPS is briefly related here.

Hi Ricardo,

Here is my favorite USPS item:

As most of my stationery business is based on hand writing personal correspondence delivered by the post office, it is tough to see how silly they are some time. I am not at all sure that it was a good business decision to shrink wrap and hand process a piece of junk mail that got mangled in their system. Well, at least the rates went up.

Thanks for the link, Nancy, but I got a message saying that I have to be signed in to get there! I don't have a MySpace account, so I can't see that picture.


I established an account while I was teaching "Design to Music Industry Majors", a senior level university course, it was fascinating. I learned more I taught, well sort of.

Anyway, please establish an account, you can use an alias. MySpace is the industry network for the entertainment industry, and, if you have been keeping up with the magazine, JUXTAPOS, art/design/(type) converge these days. Which is why I am using Typophile, Wordpress, UTube, the Loyola University New Orleans Blackboard platforms to structure and teach an experimental, online studio design course this summer.

MySpace is pretty obnoxious but it is the industry standard for the music industry. So, although it was a real reach for me to make an account, I have. And now use it to teach from. (In the online course each student is required to post an item to their 'sketchbook' once a day, five days a week by five p.m. for the duration–eight weeks.)

I hope that you will logon.