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Christmas Gift Guide
Tech Industry

Personalized stamps make a comeback

U.S. Postal Service gives personalized postage stamps another try, after initial effort was foiled by Internet pranksters.

Like a recurring bad dream, customized postage is back.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Postal Service announced that it is starting the second phase of a pilot program that would allow companies to sell customized postage stamps. This phase of the program will last a year, after which the agency will determine if it will continue allowing these stamps to be sold.

Customized postage allows people to personalize postage with digital pictures or images. The Postal Service initially tested the concept last year for six weeks. More than 2.7 million pieces of customized postage were sold during that period, said Joanne Veto, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service.

"The initial test we did showed a lot of interest," she said. "Now we want to see if that level of interest can be sustained over a longer period of time."

While people were definitely interested in the offering, Veto admitted that the initial pilot wasn't without problems. Some Internet pranksters ordered stamps featuring images of controversial figures, including Ted Kaczynski, Jimmy Hoffa and Slobodan Milosevic.

"Some people pushed the limits of the concept," Veto added. "We learned a lot from the initial testing phase, and we are taking measures to ensure that doesn't happen again. That is why one of the biggest criteria for vendors applying to be a part of this next phase of the program is proving they have a screening process for the images."

Veto said vendors are responsible for screening images that are used on the stamps and making sure that they comply with all copyright laws and Postal Service regulations. For example, users must own the copyright to all images used, and the images cannot be inflammatory or encourage people to commit unlawful acts. Images must also be free of advertising.

Vendors are expected to reject any images that do not adhere to these policies.

So far, the Postal Service has authorized three companies to participate in the pilot program, including Stamps.com, which was involved in the initial test, Endicia and Pitney Bowes.

Customized stamps are also a hit overseas. WeStampU, based in Germany, launched a service earlier this month that enables people to upload their own digital images to be used as a stamp on a postcard generated from its Web site.