Naperville Business Lawyer Discusses the Stamp That Cost the Postal Service $3.5 Million

stamp, Naperville business law attorneyPostage stamps are quickly becoming little more than a curious relic of the past for many people in today’s digital world. In fact, there is probably a large number of American adults who have not bought a stamp in several months, if not much longer. Despite this trend, the United States Postal Service (USPS), reported that it handled approximately 18.5 billion pieces of first-class mail in 2017, many of which bore traditional postage stamps.

As a business law attorney, I understand that demand for businesses like the Postal Service is affected by a number of factors, including internal decisions. One such decision from several years ago, however, will cost the USPS $3.5 million in damages to a sculptor who created a replica of one of our nation’s most enduring images.

The Backstory

In 2010, the U.S. Postal Service released a series of “forever” stamps that bore the image of the face of the Statue of Liberty. Some 3 billion stamps were printed, and they remained in circulation for at least three months before the USPS realized that there might be a problem.

The stamp’s designers had used a stock photo of what they thought was the original Statue of Liberty—the one that stands proudly in New York Harbor. It turns out that the stock photo was of a replica created by sculptor Robert Davidson for the New York-New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The replica was fabricated in 1996, but the sculptor did not obtain copyright protection until 2013.

A spokesperson for the USPS confirmed the mix-up to CNN in 2011, but the stamps continued to be sold until they were retired in 2014. The Statute of Liberty Forever stamps generated $70 million in profit for the Postal Service, but that is not the end of the story.

A Costly Lawsuit

While the Postal Service acknowledged the mistake, it did not see any real damage being done. The sculptor disagreed. He sued USPS and the federal government for copyright infringement, claiming that he was entitled to damages related to the use of his creation, despite not have a copyright at the time the stamp was created. The USPS claimed that the two versions of Lady Liberty were too alike for people to notice the differences. Davidson and his attorneys argued that his version did not “merely copy the Statue of Liberty.” Instead, “he was hired to clearly invoke the iconic New York image” with a “‘fresh’ look.”

A federal claims court judge ruled on the case at the end of last month. He determined that Davidson had, in fact, created an original work and that the faces of the two statues are “unmistakably” different. As a result, he ordered the Postal Service to pay Davidson more than $3.5 million in actual damages plus interest.

Filing a Claim Against the Government

It is notoriously difficult to successfully take legal action against local, state, or federal government entities. This case shows, however, that doing so is possible and sometimes necessary. If you have a business concern that involves the government, or you are dealing with any other type of business dispute, contact an experienced Naperville business law attorney. Call 630-756-1160 to schedule a confidential consultation at The Gierach Law Firm today.



United States Postal Service

USA Today

United States Court of Federal Claims