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'Spocking' Currency: Is It Legal to Write on Money?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock on "Star Trek," passed away last week, and grieving fans have turned to Canadian currency for comfort.

Amateur artists were encouraged to "Spock" their Canadian $5 bills, turning cold hard cash into monetary memorials to the late actor and musician -- who kind of resembles a former Canadian prime minister, if you draw in some pointy ears and angular eyebrows.

The question is: Is this kind of tribute legal? And what are the rules for drawing on our dough here in the United States?

Sketching Spock

The suggestion for the legal tender tribute came from creative website Design Canada:

Apparently, there had been a long history of adding the Spock's likeness to the Canadian $5 bill, owing mostly to its blue background, reminiscent of the Vulcan character's blue uniform.

Spending Spocks

According a representative of the Bank of Canada (via Mashable), it's not illegal to draw on bank notes, but it may be ill-advised:

Writing on a bank note may interfere with the security features and reduces its lifespan. Markings on a note may also prevent it from being accepted in a transaction. Furthermore, the Bank of Canada feels that writing and markings on bank notes are inappropriate as they are a symbol of our country and a source of national pride.

So just because your portrait is perfectly executed doesn't mean a shop will accept your scribbled-on sawbuck.

Spocking in the States?

Our northern neighbors might be a little more laid back when it comes to art on currency. Here in the United States, a federal statute, 18 U.S.C. Section 331, outlaws altering "any of the coins coined at the mints of the United States" and allows for fines and even prison time; another statute, 18 U.S.C. Section 333, outlaws defacing "any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt" issued by a bank "with intent to render such bank bill ... unfit to be reissued," and also comes with the possibility of imprisonment.

That said, the government is probably more concerned with counterfeit currency than with you making Abe Lincoln look like the Terminator. So sketch away; just don't expect merchants to honor your drawn-on dead presidents.

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