US Postal Service ordered to pay $3.5m after using photo of Statue of Liberty replica
|Robert Davidson's replica Statue of Liberty sculpture in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by ADTeasdale, used under CC license 2.0.|
The US Postal Service has been ordered to pay $3.5 million to sculptor Robert Davidson after a mixup resulted in the issuance of a Forever Stamp featuring the wrong Statue of Liberty. According to the lawsuit, USPS issued a new Forever Stamp design in December 2010 that features the Liberty Statue replica in Las Vegas created by Davidson rather than the original statue in New York.
The lawsuit explains that an official with the Postal Service began work on creating a new Forever Stamp design by acquiring stock images of the Liberty Statue. Options were narrowed down to three images, two featuring the original statue and one featuring the replica, though officials were unaware of the difference.
PhotoAssist was utilized to acquire digital files of the three final images, and the image of the replica statue was ultimately selected for the stamp design. USPS acquired a license to use the image from Getty Images for $1,500. Unaware that it was an image of the replica, the Postal Service failed to get Davidson's permission or to attribute the work to him.
Davidson became aware of the issue after his wife purchased a book of stamps featuring the new design
Another stock photo agency informed USPS in March 2011 that its Forever Stamp featured an image of the replica statue rather than the original work. According to the lawsuit, the revelation started an internal evaluation at USPS as it determined how to respond. The Forever Stamp design remained in use until it was phased out in 2014.
Davidson became aware of the issue after his wife purchased a book of stamps featuring the new design. A copyright application for the replica statue was filed in January 2012 and issued in November 2013. That same month, Davidson sued USPS for its use of the image.
Though the government argued that the replica was too similar to the original to warrant protection, the court sided with Davidson, finding his statue was sufficiently original enough for copyright protections. The court stated:
We are satisfied that plaintiff succeeded in making the statue his own creation, particularly the face. A comparison of the two faces unmistakably shows that they are different. Although the record does not contain many pictures of the original, the magazine cover provided by plaintiff which bears a picture of the original Statue of Liberty’s face is sufficient. The differences are plainly visually observable, can be articulated, and are not merely "ideas." ... Mr. Davidson’s statue, although invoking an existing world-famous statue, is an original, creative work, and as such is the subject of a valid copyright registration.
The Postal Service sold 4.9 billion stamps, bringing in $2.1 billion in revenue and more than $70 million in profits. In its ruling, the court determined that Davidson is owed $3,554,946.95 in actual damages for the unauthorized use. USPS has not issued a statement on the ruling.
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