The US Postal Service will have to pay a sculptor who recreated the Statue of Liberty for a New York-themed Las Vegas hotel over $3.5 million after it used his version instead of its much more famous predecessor on Lady Liberty-themed stamps.
The USPS put a Getty Images photo of artist Robert S. Davidson’s Las Vegas version of the sculpture on roughly 3.5 billion stamps before the incongruity was noticed in 2011. In his original civil complaint, art market platform Artsy wrote last year, Davidson wrote the USPS never asked permission and that his version is materially different than the one from 1875 and thus protected under copyright—specifically that it is “more ‘fresh-faced,’ ‘sultry’ and even ‘sexier’ than the original located in New York.” (Davidson very weirdly added that he took the inspiration for this sex bomb Lady Liberty from, umm, “certain facial features of his close female relatives.”)
“We are satisfied that plaintiff succeeded in making the statue his own creation, particularly the face,” the judge declared last week. “A comparison of the two faces unmistakably shows that they are different.” The ruling goes on, “Having determined that the face of plaintiff’s sculpture is distinct, original, and protected, we find that defendant’s use was infringing.”
According to a 2013 article in the Washington Post, the USPS admitted that it had used the wrong image in an attempt to freshen up its Statue of Liberty lines, but that the “sultry” version sold so well the USPS “would have selected this photograph anyway.” The Post noted that USPS continued to sell the stamp even after being informed of the error, which legal experts warned would probably hurt its case and apparently did. In total, according to court documents, the USPS printed over 10 billion of the stamps and sold 4.9 billion of them.
Regardless, this is yet more proof that what happens in Vegas does not always stay in Vegas, particularly when you print it on billions of stamps.