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    USPS to Pay $3.5 Million For Using Wrong Liberty Lady Likeness on Stamp

    CC BY 2.0 / Richard Allaway / Statue of Liberty
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    The United States Postal Service (USPS) has been fined $3.5 million for releasing a postal stamp with a Las Vegas replica of Statue of Liberty instead of the original one.

    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."

    The problem here is that instead of going to New York and making a photo of Lady Liberty, they turned to Getty Images, and someone was sloppy. Instead of the genuine statue, they paid $1500 for a photo of the Las Vegas scale replica, and that was created by Robert S. Davidson.

    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?"

    However, things were not so simple. As Davidson spoke in court, it turned out he modelled his replica using his mother in law's face. The replica's crown even bears a small plaque which reads "This one is for you, mom."

    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.

    ​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.

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    Tags:
    lawsuit, copyright infringement, Statue of Liberty, US Postal Service (USPS), United States
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