A close-up of the Statue of Liberty postage stamp which was discovered to be not that of the iconic New York landmark, but the scaled-down replica in Las Vegas.
A close-up of the Statue of Liberty postage stamp which was discovered to be not that of the iconic New York landmark, but the scaled-down replica in Las Vegas.

Simple error that cost $3.5 million

A REPUTABLE postal service in the United States has been ordered to cough up $US3.5 million ($AU4.6m) after it fabricated a replica of a Statue of Liberty image on billions of stamps.

Las Vegas sculptor Robert Davidson filed a civil claim against the US Postal Service (USPS) five years ago for copyright infringement, seeking $3,554,946.95 in compensation, plus interest.

He argued that "Forever" stamps issued in 2011 bore the likeness not of the original Lady Liberty, but of the recreation he produced for the New York-New York Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

The USPS thought she was the real statue and put her picture on one of its most popular stamps. It featured a close-up image of the statue's face - taken from a photograph of Davidson's statue.

The independent agency of the US Federal government continued to sell billions of the stamps even after it realised it had confused it with the real New York statue.

According to court documents, the USPS did not realise its mistake until informed by a stock photography company employee more than three months after the stamps were issued.

"The Postal Service and PhotoAssist quickly confirmed the facts and USPS began working internally on what its response would be," the court document stated.

"Layne Owens, the manager of stamp development, noted in an email to Stephen Kearney of USPS that, although PhotoAssist had failed to properly identify the subject of the photograph, after looking at it, 'it's quite apparent that it had to be' of the Las Vegas replica."

When Davidson eventually filed his lawsuit, the agency's attorneys argued that the two statues were too similar for the sculptor to claim copyright.

Davidson also copped flack for copying a government-owned statue, the mail service argued, and therefore claimed it could freely design stamps based on his creation as if it were using the real Lady Liberty.

Davidson, however, claimed that his statue's face is "more modern, a little more contemporary face, definitely more feminine" than the original.

He also said he specifically wanted to distinguish his work from the original in New York, to create something "more appropriate for Las Vegas".

He took on the $385,000 job in 1996, after completing his work on a 110-foot replica of the Sphinx down the street from the New York-New York Hotel & Casino.

The hotel wanted him to make a to-scale version of the real Statue of Liberty, The Washington Post reported. But he was given no scale model to work with, so he had to improvise his own design.

 

New York-New York Hotel & Casino's half-size replica of Lady Liberty.
New York-New York Hotel & Casino's half-size replica of Lady Liberty.

 

According to the court papers, the artist testified that he "envisioned his mother-in-law as inspiration for the new look and viewed her picture every night during the construction of

the face of the statue".

"Though he could not give detail as to specific elements of the face, such as the lips or eyes, that he set out to change, he believed that he achieved a 'softer' and more feminine final appearance," the court papers said.

Last week, Davidson's multimillion-dollar compensation claim came true after Federal Judge Eric Bruggink sided with him - writing in his decision that "a comparison of the two faces unmistakably shows that they are different".

"We agree that Mr Davidson's statue evokes a softer and more feminine appeal. The eyes are different, the jaw line is less massive and the whole face is more rounded," the court paper stated.

 

The replica of Lady Liberty wears a Las Vegas Aces jersey to celebrate the WNBA team's inaugural season on June 19, 2018.
The replica of Lady Liberty wears a Las Vegas Aces jersey to celebrate the WNBA team's inaugural season on June 19, 2018.

Bruggink ordered the USPS to pay Davidson $3,554,946.95, plus interest.

"Robert Davidson is pleased that after a full trial, the Federal Court of Claims recognised the significance of his artistic work in creating the Las Vegas Lady Liberty statue and enforcing his copyright," Davidson's lawyer, Todd Bice, told Money in a statement.

"As the court noted, Mr Davidson's artistic creation of the Las Vegas Lady Liberty is highly unique and attractive, which is what prompted the US Postal Service to select a photo of his work for the second ever Forever Stamp, over hundreds of other images."

"We are reviewing the decision and will comment if and when appropriate," a USPS representative told Money by email.

Court documents show that the USPS, which sold 4,948,761,166 of the stamps between 2011 and 2014, made about $US70 million off the design.