Post Office

Copyright Infringement of 'Sexier' Statue of Liberty Costs Postal Service $3.5 Million

The Post Office must pay $3.5 million for using a "fresh-faced," "sexier" Statue of Liberty replica on a stamp.

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RICHARD B. LEVINE/Newscom

The United States Postal Service (USPS) is on the hook for $3.5 million because it put the wrong Statue of Liberty on a stamp.

In late 2010, the Post Office released a "Forever" stamp that featured a photograph of the Statue of Liberty. But the stamp didn't depict the famous landmark in New York City. The image came from a photo of a Statue of Liberty replica outside New York-New York, a casino-resort in Las Vegas.

The USPS didn't find out about the mix-up until three months after it issued the stamp—and because the stamp was popular, the agency didn't withdraw it even then. The government kept printing the stamps until 2014, by which point 4.9 billion of them had been sold.

But in 2013, the sculptor who created the replica, Robert Davidson, sued the Postal Service for copyright infringement. Last week, Judge Eric Bruggink of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled in Davidson's favor, awarding him $3.5 million in damages.

Davidson's lawsuit argued that his replica was different enough from New York's Statue of Liberty that it should be considered an original work. The replica "brought a new face to the iconic statue—a face which audiences found appeared more 'fresh-faced,' 'sultry' and even 'sexier' than the original located in New York," the suit said.

Bruggink agreed. "The portion used was entirely of what we consider to have been the original work contributed by Mr. Davidson," the judge wrote. "The government's only real defense is that its use did not particularly harm plaintiff's business as an industrial sculptor. That may be true, but we also note that it certainly did not benefit him. The Postal Service offered neither public attribution nor apology."

Not only did the Postal Service not apologize to Davidson, but it actively attempted to sell stamps off the error. "We really like the image and are thrilled that people have noticed in a sense," a USPS spokesperson told CNN in 2011. "It's something that people really like. If you ask people in Vegas, they're saying, 'Hey, That's great. That's wonderful.' It's certainly injected some excitement into our stamp program." In 2013 a USPS spokesperson told The Washington Post that the Post Office "would have selected this photograph anyway," even had it been aware of the error from the start.

The agency couldn't have it both ways. The USPS stated in public that the stamp's originality made it special, while the agency's lawyers argued that the Vegas replica was no different than the original. It's no surprise that Davidson won his suit.

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  1. “We really like the image and are thrilled that people have noticed in a sense,” a USPS spokesperson told CNN in 2011. “It’s something that people really like. If you ask people in Vegas, they’re saying, ‘Hey, That’s great. That’s wonderful.’ It’s certainly injected some excitement into our stamp program.”

    So this guy was testifying for the plaintiff? Or is this an argument that if everybody likes something they should be entitled to get it for free? I’m a little confused as to how an argument that you’ve really benefitted from the use of something is a defense of the theft of that thing.

    1. Although I suppose the Post Office could say they were “sampling” the statue and claim fair use. And it does raise the question as to who owns the copyright in the statue – I’m assuming the statue was commissioned and paid for by somebody other than the artist. Was the copyright specifically withheld or transferred? Or is this the result of some “artist’s rights” law like the one that saw a building owner sued for tearing down a graffiti-covered building on the grounds that the graffiti artists had a property right in their work?

      1. Ah, yes. “5 Pointz”. You really can find a judge stupid enough to rule your way on anything. And of course the buildings that replaced it are loaded with taxpayers subsidies for “artists” because they wouldn’t STFU until they got their demands.

    2. This is a quote from an interview that predates the suit.

    3. No, the argument was that the USPS publicly said that ‘it’s different and special’ but later in court tried to say ‘it’s just a copy’ in order to avoid the copyright infringement claim. In other words, whether or not it really was different, their own claims of specialness came back to bite them in court.

  2. The Post office is not known for brilliant thinkers.

  3. The Post Office American taxpayers must pay $3.5 million for using a “fresh-faced,” “sexier” Statue of Liberty replica on a stamp.

    FTFY

    Also, I trust the individual who approved the use of the image is now looking for a “fresh-faced,” “sexier” job.

  4. So if I take a picture of a sculpture, I don’t hold the copyright of the picture – the sculptor does?
    Seems odd.

    1. It’s pictures of sculptures all the way down!

    2. Not really. Your copyright prevents others from using the work. It isn’t an affirmative right to use it.

    3. It’s called a ‘derivative work’. As the photographer, you do hold the copyright to the picture – but the sculptor still holds the copyright to the statue. As a derivative work, use of your picture may or may not be allowed under the four-part “fair use” test. In this case, the court found that it did not.

  5. This is one more reason to consider privatizing the postal service. Because private firms are generally much more risk-averse about this sort of thing and would have taken the necessary steps to avoid this type of lawsuit to the best of their ability, instead of going on TV and bragging about how they are breaking the law.

    1. Making liberty fuckable again.

    2. Stamp published in 2010.
      Public comment by USPS spokesman in 2011.
      Suit filed in 2013.
      Printing stopped in 2014.
      Trump takes office in 2017.

      How exactly is this an example of “Trump’s America”?

  6. Slutty Lady Liberty on my angry letters to Nestles is totally worth it.

  7. Wasn’t the original Lady Liberty giving the world a come hither look?

    1. No man, there was supposed to be another statue next to her. She’s in the act of lighting her man’s bong.

      They lost funding and just decided to leave her standing there alone.

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  9. That is really sad. United states of postal services offering amazing services all over the country. The employees also have an opportunity to access liteblue to make sure they check everything online

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