In a 2010 stamp design, the U.S. Postal Service mistook a Las Vegas-based replica for the real Statue of Liberty. Now a federal court has ruled that the post office must pay the replica’s sculptor $3.5 million for violating his copyright.
The statue by artist Robert Davidson sits at the New York-New York casino in Las Vegas, thousands of miles away from the mint-green figure in New York Harbor.
Yet an image of his sculpture made a surprise appearance on the post office’s Lady Liberty “forever” stamp in 2010. Davidson filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the post office in 2013, claiming it illegally used the image of his piece, and on June 29 a federal court agreed, awarding him damages after he established that his piece was different enough from the original to be protected. Davidson argued in the case that his version is “sexier” and more “fresh-faced” than the French gift to America.
Made of plaster mud, acrylic-based coating and foam, the replica is half the size of the real Statue of Liberty and sports more defined eyes and lips. Davidson argued in court that his mother-in-law’s face inspired the Las Vegas sculpture’s design. He said he made the statue’s appearance “a little more modern, a little more feminine” than the original’s “masculine” features.
The post office had originally picked the photo by searching Getty Images, the stock-photo agency, and believed it showed the real statue. After sizing and cropping the photo to fit on a stamp, the post office released it to the public in December 2010.
It was not until 2011, after 3 billion of the stamps had been printed, that a stamp collector noticed it pictured the wrong Lady Liberty, and the post office changed the information in materials dispersed about the stamp. The post office took no further action until the court case, where it argued that Davidson’s piece was too similar to the original to be protected by copyright.
The post office discontinued the design in 2014 — but only after bringing in $2.1 billion from the sale of 4.9 billion stamps. Originally, Davidson earned $233,000 from the creation of the casino-based statue after manufacturing costs.
The post office declined to comment on the case’s outcome. Todd Bice, Davidson’s attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press that his client was pleased that the court recognized the significance of his “highly unique and attractive” work of art.