The United States Postal Service's money woes just got $3.5 million worse, and the Statue of Liberty is to blame. A judge ruled last week that the agency did commit copyright infringement when it used an image of Robert S. Davidson's Statue of Liberty on a stamp it issued in 2011. The Lady Liberty that towers over New York Harbor was designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi; Davidson's replica stands before the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, reports Fast Company. The Washington Post (which has an image of the stamp) in December 2013 reported that the USPS had obtained the image from Getty Images but didn't also seek permission from Davidson, likely because the USPS assumed what it was using was in the public domain. Not so.
A stamp collector had identified the mix-up in 2011, and the USPS was made aware—but then it printed another 1.13 billion of the stamps on top of the 3.5 billion it had already made, reported Artsy in 2017. As such, the suit claimed the infringement was knowingly committed. Identical copies of works in the public domain (which the statue is) aren't covered by copyright infringement protections. But Davidson argued in his suit that he wasn't trying to create a replica but rather to craft a fresher, more feminine version. Per the ruling, "he envisioned his mother-in-law as inspiration ... and viewed her picture every night during the construction of the face of the statue." The judge ruled the "plaintiff succeeded in making the statue his own creation, particularly the face." The amount owed: $3,554,946.95 in royalties, plus interest. (The USPS has announced a new kind of stamp.)