In 2010, the USPS released a new run of forever stamps sporting the image of the Statue of Liberty’s face. The only problem? That wasn’t the original Statue of Liberty featured on the Lady Liberty first class stamp, but the Vegas one. After four years of litigation, the lawsuit between sculptor Robert S. Davidson and the US Postal Service will finally be going to trial this September.
What Happened to the Lady Liberty First Class Stamp?
The image featured on the stamp was actually taken from a photograph of the replica statue standing beside the New York, New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. The sculptor of the replica, Robert S. Davidson, filed a lawsuit against the USPS in 2013 alleging that the government infringed on his copyright on the statue he’d made in 1996 when they produced and sold the Lady Liberty first class stamp.
The U.S. Court of Federal Claims refused summary judgment for either party, stating that there were still questions as to whether or not Davidson’s replica was visually distinct enough from the original statue to qualify for copyright protection as an original work.
To date, Davidson’s replica Statue of Liberty has appeared on more than 4 billion Lady Liberty first class stamp units issued by the USPS. Judge Eric G. Bruggink, who had been presiding over the case, ordered that the issue be taken to trial on September 11, 2017 in Washington, D.C. for liability and damages.
Davidson vs. the U.S.
Update: The testimony in the case of Davidson vs. the U.S. regarding the Lady Liberty stamp has ended! Read more in our article about the conclusion of this testimony.
Judge Bruggink had on July 18 struck down the USPS’ defense that “photographic copying of a public architectural work does not constitute copyright infringement.” This defense directly contradicts a 1990 ruling by Congress, adding a provision to the Copyright Act that protects sculptural works as “works of authorship”.
“Even if the replica were viewed by the public as a design element of the casino, as defendant’s experts contend,” he said, “that does not strip plaintiff’s work of its protection as a sculpture.”
According to Davidson’s attorney, James J. Pisanelli of Pisanelli Bice PLLC, the part of the statue that was copied by the stamp makers is the most crucial piece of evidence in the case. He claims that Davidson’s statue’s face, which appears on the stamp, is intentionally not a perfect copy of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s original.
Even so, the USPS’ defense team argued that the differences between the two works was minimal enough that the statue was not protected under the Copyright Act. Additionally, they argued they were entitled to “fair use” of the statue’s image as even with the large volume of stamps sold depicting Davidson’s sculpture, they “have a minimal potential for reducing plaintiffs’ ability to make further commercial use of the replica.”
Because of these details, the judge was unable to grant either party the summary judgment they wished for, prompting the order for a full trial. Following the decision, Postal Service spokesman David A. Partenheimer was reported as saying, “We have no comment due to the ongoing litigation.”
The case will go to trial on September 11th in Washington, D.C. of this year where both sides will argue whether or not Davidson deserves compensation for the unauthorized usage of his statue’s image on the Lady Liberty first class stamp. What do you think?