The US Postal Service (USPS) has been ordered to pay $3.5m (£2.6m) after it accidentally used a photo of a Las Vegas replica of the Statue of Liberty on a stamp.
Sculptor Robert Davidson, who created the copy for the New York-New York Hotel and Casino, was awarded the money after claiming he was owed royalties for unauthorised use of an image of his statue on one of the postal service’s most common stamps.
The lawsuit comes after USPS licensed a photo of the Las Vegas statue from the image service Getty for $1,500 (£1,100) believing it was an image of the New York monument on Liberty Island.
The licence covered rights to the photograph but not the statue itself.
Its resulting “forever” stamp was released in December 2010 and it took four months before anyone noticed the mishap. The postal service continued using the stamp until January 2014.
Mr Davidson sued, but the USPS argued the Las Vegas statue was a mere replica of a well-known statue and that the sculptor was not entitled to copyright protection.
It also argued the photograph was permitted by copyright’s fair use rule as it saw minimal value from using an image of Mr Davidson’s slightly altered interpretation of the original statue.
But the US Court of Federal Claims sided with the sculptor, who said he tried to make Lady Liberty “more feminine”, and concluded the modifications were large enough to give the sculptor’s work originality, defeating the postal service’s fair use argument.
USPS argued Mr Davidson was not owed any more than $10,000 (£7,500) but the artist argued he was owed a percentage for each of the billions of stamps sold.
The court however focused on the 3.23% of the stamps which were sold, but never used because they were either lost or were being held by stamp collectors.
These stamps represented a “complete profit” for the postal service because they were not used to send mail.
The unused stamps brought in more than $70m (£52m) for the Post Office, with the court awarding Mr Davidson a 5% royalty for each unused stamp plus $5,000 (£3,800) in damages.
USPS is reportedly reviewing the decision and now has new procedures in place to prevent any similar mishaps.