A federal judge has decreed that the US Postal Service must pay the millions for using the wrong Lady Liberty on one of its most popular postal stamps. Yes, you heard that right, a judge sentenced the USPS for copyright infringement.
How that was possible?
In 2010, the USPS launched a printed postal mark with Lady Liberty's face. And it turned out to be a nice stamp, so popular, that it sold in billions, up to the point the postal service called it a "workhorse."
Everyone makes mistakes, especially on the Internet. Not that the USPS was unaware of their misdeed, as they were reminded again, again and again, first by a photography company, then in a stamp collector's blog post, then by The New York Times and The Washington Post and many others, Spokesman.com reports.
Nonetheless, after some mulling, they decided to keep it.
"We still love the stamp design and would have selected this photograph anyway," a USPS spokesperson told the New York Times in 2011.
In 2013, Davidson sued the USPS, accusing them of copyright infringement, despite knowing their mistake. He claimed the stamps sold in the billions of dollars.
But who does the public side with? Not the artist, it turned out.
"Mr Davidson, you are truly gross," an angry commenter, reportedly representative of the general mood, wrote beneath the Washington Post story on the 2013 lawsuit, Spokesman.com reported. "You take an icon of America, create a low-level, cheap looking semi-replica for, of all places, Vegas (our national seat of cheap, shallow self-indulgence), make money off this, then cry copyright infringement. Are you kidding?"
And this decision was justified not only by his personal motivations, but also by those professional.
"I just thought that this needed a little more modern, a little more contemporary face, definitely more feminine," Davidson testified at the trial, according to court documents. "Just something that I thought was more appropriate for Las Vegas."
What Davidson did made the Las Vegas version an original work — original enough for the judge to waive the USPS claim that Davidson's work was a mere replica of a public domain artwork.
When It's called The United States Postal Service.— The 112 (@_THE112) 3 июля 2018 г.
The USPS issued a Statue Of Liberty stamp that features the “Las Vegas” edition of lady liberty instead of the one sitting in the mouth of the Hudson River in New York.
That mistake = $3,554,946.95 in royalties to be paid out😧 pic.twitter.com/IbNnZrqQPT
Faced with the evidence, USPS tried to argue that New York's Statue of Liberty is not a statue. They claimed that it is a building, and therefore should be in exception to US copyright laws.
The judge was merciless and discarded their complaint.
"The Postal Service offered neither public attribution nor apology," the judge wrote in last week's ruling. "Printing billions of copies and selling them to the public as part of a business enterprise — whether for use to send mail or to be retained in collections — so overwhelmingly favors a finding of infringement that no fair use can be found."
As thin as USPS's profit margins are said to be, the judge noted, the government earned some $70 million in the stamp's four-year run.