US Postal Service Forced to Pay Millions to Artist After Mistakenly Using His Sculpture of the Statue of Liberty on Stamp

The agency has accidentally printed the ‘more feminine’ Las Vegas version of the iconic statue on billions of stamps since 2010

2011 Forever stamp. Courtesy: USPS

2011 Forever stamp. Courtesy: USPS

2011 Forever stamp. Courtesy: USPS

The US Postal Service has been forced to hand over millions of dollars to an artist after it mistakenly printed a photograph of his version of the Statue of Liberty in Las Vegas on its 2011 ‘Forever’ stamp, instead of the real deal. Billions of the stamps have been produced since 2010.

A federal court has now ruled that the USPS owes artist Robert Davidson USD$3.5 million for accidental copyright infringement. The Service had in fact realized its mistake in 2011, but neither issued an apology nor offered the artist credit. Davidson then sued USPS in 2017 for copyright infringement. Now a court has ruled in favour of the artist’s argument that his piece was an original interpretation of Lady Liberty, and deserving of copyright protection.

In 1996, Robert Davidson was commissioned to create a replica of the iconic statue – situated in New York Harbour since 1886 – by the New York-New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Davidson even added his own touches, refreshing the facial features after a photograph of his own mother-in-law. ‘I just thought that this needed a little more modern, a little more contemporary face, definitely more feminine, just something that I thought was more appropriate for Las Vegas,’ the artist said in court. In his original complaint, the artist claimed that his version was ‘sexier’ than the New York original.

The ruling that USPS should pay USD$3.5 million was based on a calculation of 5% of the profits that the Service made on the stamp. ‘We are satisfied that plaintiff succeeded in making the statue his own creation, particularly the face. […] We agree that Mr Davidson’s statue evokes a softer and more feminine appeal. The eyes are different, the jaw line is less massive and the whole face is more rounded,’ the court ruled.

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