You may remember that in 2011 the US Postal Service issued a Statue of Liberty “forever” stamp. You may also recall that shortly thereafter, it was revealed by Linn’s Stamp News that the statue pictured on the stamp wasn’t the famous one in New York Harbor, but rather, a replica that stands outside a casino in Las Vegas.
In a memorable statement, the USPS admitted that while there may have been mistakes in selecting and describing the stamp design, “We still love the stamp design and would have selected this photograph anyway”. Those words may come back to haunt the agency, because the sculptor of the Las Vegas statue is now suing the USPS for copyright infringement.
The postal service licensed the photo used on the stamp from Getty Images, an online photo agency. It failed, however, to acquire a license from the sculptor- presumably because it thought it was dealing with a statue whose design had long ago entered the public domain.
The design used by the sculptor, Robert S. Davidson, was distinctive enough to be noticed by an alert Linn’s reader. And after the “error” was discovered, the USPS had been quick to proclaim that there was “no error in the artwork”, and that it had wanted all along to do something “different” from previous Liberty stamps. All of which may make it difficult for the USPS to claim now that it simply made a mistake.
Davidson says in his complaint that he is not able to specify how much he’s owed in damages- but whether it was a mistake or a conscious decision, the stamp design could be costly for the USPS. In September, the sculptor responsible for the design of the Korean War Memorial was awarded $685,000 in damages after the USPS used a photo of the memorial on a stamp without the permission of the copyright holder. In that case, a federal court found that the copyright holder was entitled to a ten percent royalty on sales of stamps to collectors, and on sales of merchandise featuring the stamp design.