Testimony in the case of a sculptor suing the United State Postal Service for unauthorized use of his work ended Sept. 20. After an eight-day trial, the Lady Liberty stamp testimony concluded and a U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge will announce his decision in the coming months. The case is the second one in recent years to challenge the Postal Service’s policy of limiting payment for a stamp design to $5,000. A Las Vegas sculptor claims that the USPS owes him in excess of that amount for the use of his work.
The Case behind the Lady Liberty Stamp Testimony
Robert S. Davidson brought his suit after the USPS mistakenly based its 2010 forever stamp on a photograph of his sculpture, Lady Liberty, which stands outside New York New York Casino in Las Vegas, rather than on the actual Statue of Liberty monument in New York Harbor.
The error occurred when the USPS purchased a stock photograph of the Davidson sculpture from a photo agency, and Terry McCaffrey, head of stamp design for the USPS at the time, subsequently selected the photo to be the next forever stamp. USPS lawyers said during Lady Liberty stamp testimony that McCaffrey liked the image because he found it “unique.”
The USPS didn’t realize its mistake until after the forever stamp was issued, and upon discovering it, Postal Service officials immediately contacted attorneys for the photo agency, USPS lawyers told Judge Eric G. Bruggink of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
Davidson’s lawyers argued during Lady Liberty stamp testimony that the USPS never contacted him about the unauthorized use of his statue’s image. This case is the second to challenge the USPS policy which limits stamp design payments to $5,000.
The first case, heard in 2015 in the same Federal Claims Court in Washington, D.C., ended with a judgment of $574,000 being awarded to Vermont sculptor Frank Gaylord, whose art was used without his permission in a 2003 commemorative stamp that portrayed the Korean War Veterans Memorial. A key difference between the two cases, however, is that the non-denominated Lady Liberty forever stamp based on Davidson’s sculpture – worth 44 cents when issued and 49 cents currently – was printed in much greater numbers than the 37-cent Korean War Veterans Memorial stamp.
If you want to know more about the case, here’s our article about the Lady Liberty stamp dispute.
Some Trial Testimony Nuggets
Bill Gicker Jr., USPS manager of stamp development, said during his Lady Liberty stamp testimony that large companies like the Walt Disney corporation will often decline the fee altogether simply because of the great publicity value of having their product’s image on a stamp.
The Lady Liberty stamp was to succeed the Liberty Bell forever stamp when it was issued in 2010, but the reason for the switch was more than cosmetic, according to Gicker’s testimony.
USPS accountants were finding it difficult to determine the year in which the Liberty Bell stamps were sold, and an accounting rule mandated that stamp sales could only be accounted for once a stamp had been used. Changing the forever stamp design would make it easier to determine when the stamp was sold and for how much.
Judge Will Issue his Decision within Months
Judge Bruggink called the lawsuit “a very interesting case to try” at the conclusion of trial testimony.
Bruggink is likely to call attorneys back to his courtroom for final arguments within a few months, and a written decision disclosing how much, if anything, that Davidson will be awarded will follow weeks after that. If the first case is any precedent, the USPS’s second mistaken episode of using unauthorized artwork on its stamps may be at least as costly as the first.