The U.S. Postal Service has recently been ordered to pay $3.5M for a pretty strange case of copyright infringement. They have mistakenly used a photo of the wrong Statue of Liberty on a stamp. Instead of using a photo of the original statue, the U.S. Post used a photo of Robert Davidson’s Las Vegas replica, which resulted in a lawsuit.
The Postal Service had featured Lady Liberty on 23 stamps before, but the stamp development manager said during testimony that this photo “featured a fresh take on the statue,” which is why he liked it. Unfortunately, the stock photo he chose for the final solution doesn’t feature the original statue at all, but Davidson’s Las Vegas replica.
The stamp development manager purchased photo rights to use it and the stamp was published in December 2010. The federal agency reportedly realized they’d made a mistake in March 2011, when a stock photo company alerted them in an email. Still, the Postal Service continued making the stamp until 2014. As National Public Radio reports, it earned the Postal Service over $70 million in profits between 2010 and 2014.
Davidson reportedly discovered that a photo of his sculpture is on the stamp when his wife bought a book of stamps at the post office. In January 2012, the wife filed a copyright application on his behalf. The copyright for his statue was issued in November 2013, and then he sued the Postal Service for using the photo of it on the stamp. In his complaint, the sculptor said that his statue gave the Liberty Lady a more “fresh-faced, sultry and even sexier” look, as BBC writes.
Considering that the replica is different enough from the original, it deserved its own copyright. In the court documents, the judge called the government’s conclusion “nonsense:”
“The government points to the fact that the Postal Service did not notice the difference between the two faces itself until notified months after producing many millions of stamps. The conclusion for defendant is that nothing original must have been copied. This is nonsense.”
As a result of the lawsuit, on 29 June, Robert Davidson was entitled to a share of the US Postal Service’s earnings from the stamp. The court ruled that the Postal Service’s use of the photo was not permitted by the statue. Therefore, the artist is entitled to compensation of $3.5 million (3,554,946.95 to be exact), plus interest.