In a court ruling last week, Robert Davidson, the sculptor of a Statue of Liberty replica in Las Vegas, was awarded $3.5 million because the U.S. Postal Service mistakenly licensed a photo of his statue instead of the real Lady Liberty.
In 2008 the USPS began the process of updating its Forever Stamp. The then Manager of Stamp Development, Terry McCaffrey, employed the services of a contractor, Photo Assist, to give him access a number of image repositories. He narrowed down an initial selection of 24 images to just three, eventually settling on a close up of the face taken by Raimund Linke, and in 2010 purchased a non-exclusive three year license, from Getty Images, for an image of what he thought was the Statue of Liberty, which enabled the USPS to print one million copies.
McCaffery told the court that the Postal Service had already used 20 images of the statue so he wanted to use something a bit different. The image he chose was different, alright; about 2,000 miles different, because Raimund Linke's photo was taken in Las Vegas. And when the stamp went into full production in December 2010, a press release was issued that gave attribution to Linke but not to Davidson.
After the discovery of the mix-up was made by some philatelic sleuths at Linn's Stamp News back in 2011, USPS continued to use the image until 2014, indicating in a letter to concerned Congressman Elliot Engel in 2011 that withdrawing and reissuing a new stamp would be cost prohibitive. Yikes.
In 2012, Davidson's wife filled a copyright application on his behalf and in 2013 copyright for his sculpture was issued. He then filed a lawsuit against USPS for the use of his artwork. While USPS claimed that Davidson's replica was not substantially different from the original, the judge, based on the evidence presented, disagreed, and awarded damages to the plaintiff amounting to just over $3.5 million. The figure was based on a royalty rate of 5 percent of the revenue generated by the sale of the stamp which was estimated to be around $70 million.
All because (apparently) someone forgot to check a caption.
Lead image by Quiz Zard via Unsplash.