Learning that imitation is not always sincere flattery, the United States Postal Service (USPS) is now on the hook for three-and-a-half million dollars, standing guilty of copyright infringement. The issue revolves around a Statue of Liberty stamp — dubbed “Forever” — that was introduced by USPS in 2010. Since the Postal Service has circulated many stamps featuring Lady Liberty over the years, the charges against the government corporation came as a surprise to many people. However, this stamp is different.
The Perils of Stock Photography
In seeking a striking image for this most recent Statue of Liberty stamp, the USPS did not send a professional photographer to capture a new perspective on the beloved New York City (or New Jersey) landmark. Instead, their personnel perused multiple stock images provided by a website contracted by the agency. The image that won the selection process was indeed striking and appealing to the judges. Only three months after they rolled out the new Statue of Liberty stamp did the USPS realize the discrepancy between the figure and the actual statue.
It turned out that the stock photograph was not of Lady Liberty; it was of a smaller replica that graces the New York-New York Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas. Upon the post office’s public acknowledgement of this fact, the replica’s creator, sculptor Robert Davidson, sued for damages based on copyright infringement. The very differences in his version, it turned out, were what caught the eyes of the USPS officials. As he told the U.S. Court of Claims, his statue’s face is “more modern, a little more contemporary face, definitely more feminine…” the court agreed.
“The New Colossus” is the well-known poem affixed to the base of the Statue of Liberty. Written by Emma Lazarus, it invites the poor, rejected and hopeless to America for a new start. Many consider these words codified as constitutional law. Thus, when the post office issues a Statue of Liberty stamp, it conveys a message long revered in the U.S.
Lady Liberty and Her Mimics
Originally intended to commemorate the founding of the United States for the 1876 Centennial, the Statue of Liberty was delayed in its delivery to the U.S from France because of funding shortages. The sculptor, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, required the assistance of an engineer (Alexandre Gustave Eiffel) to construct an internal support structure for the giant copper lady.
Moreover, the American contribution to the project — the pedestal — was also slow in coming due to financial shortages. As the French gathered the necessary monies, New York publisher Josef Pulitzer coaxed his many readers to contribute to the erection of the base. Finally, “Liberty Enlightening the World” was dedicated by President Grover Cleveland in 1886.
Since then, the statue has enjoyed many imitators. As near as Brooklyn and as far as Pakistan, replicas of Lady Liberty stand proudly…at various heights. In 1972, Salvador Dali created a copy faithful in every respect except for the fact that she hoists two torches aloft. That statue stands in rural France. Lastly, a famous (or infamous) Lego version of the statue resides in Denmark. Israel, Taiwan, Japan and Germany also host differing manifestations of the original in New York Harbor.
The many reditions of the world-famous sculpture — those very close in resemblance and those less so — help to explain the USPS error in its latest Statue of Liberty stamp. The “Forever” stamp is a result of a very good likeness and the hazards of utilizing stock images. The Postal Service made a costly discovery of this legally hazardous reality.