The United States Postal Service is paying out a huge, $USD 3.5 million settlement to sculptor Robert Davidson after it appropriated an image of his Statue of Liberty sculpture, standing in Las Vegas, and then placed that sculpture’s image on Forever Stamps postage stamps that the agency issued in 2010.
Davidson’s lawsuit against the USPS gives some insight into the process the post office used to design its new Forever Stamps and apparently the whole process began with finding stock photo images of the Statue of Liberty in New York City and then narrowing it down. The three final photos, two of which were of Davidson’s sculpture, were then left for the final selection.
The USPS then used PhotoAssist to get the digital files for the pictures and the selection ultimately ended up being a photo of the replica crafted by Davidson though the USPS officials did not know the difference between the NYC statue and the Las Vegas replica.
The post office then acquired the rights to the image from Getty Images for $1500. But since they did not know this photo was of Davidson’s replica, they failed to get his permission or attribute the statue’s design to him.
The USPS was told by another stock photo firm that the image in use on its Forever Stamps was of the replica statue and not the actual statue sometime in March 2011, prompting an internal investigation into the matter at the post office.
The sculptor became aware of the infringement when his wife purchased a book of stamps featuring the design, which he filed for copyrighted in January 2012 and that received in November 2013 whereupon he sued the United States Postal Service.
The post office argued that, as a derivative work, Davidson’s sculpture didn’t merit protection but the court disagreed with them, saying:
“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.”
With sales of 4.9 billion and revenues of $USD 2.1 billion, $70 million of which was profit, the court determined that Davidson’s damages amounted to roughly $3.5 million according to NPR.