Uniquely Louisiana

Uniquely Louisiana

$3.5 million stamp mistake illustrates copyright laws

| Aug 8, 2018

Do you know the Statue of Liberty when you see it? For the U.S. Postal Service, that question wasn’t so simple. The most successful stamp in recent years actually featured a replica of Lady Liberty from the Las Vegas strip instead of the actual statue in New York City. This case of mistaken identity and copyright infringement proved to be a multimillion-dollar mishap.

An internet search gone wrong

A U.S. Postal Service (USPS) employee was looking for inspiration for a new patriotic stamp when he found a unique image of the Statue of Liberty in a stock photo database. The employee paid $1,500 for the licensing rights and used the photo on a new “forever” stamp.

However, there was one problem: The photo was of a Las Vegas replica created by the sculptor Robert Davidson; the caption had misidentified it as the original statue in New York Harbor. The innocent mistake would prove to be a very costly one.

Too late to stop the presses

The stamps went on sale in December 2010. A few months later, a stamp collector’s blog pointed out the mistake and the news started to get out. However, three billion stamps had already been printed, creating millions of dollars in sales for the cash-strapped agency. The USPS decided to simply acknowledge the mistake and continue to sell them. They sold almost five billion stamps — for more than $2 billion — before Davidson sued them for copyright infringement.

Taking copyright infringement more seriously

The USPS unsuccessfully argued that since the replica statue was a duplicate of government property, they could use the design. A federal judge disagreed, ruling that the artist should receive a 5 percent royalty on the agency’s $70 million in profit earnings — a sum of over $3.5 million.

This dramatic example of copyright litigation serves to illustrate the importance of taking intellectual property rights seriously. Even the largest corporations or agencies – both in Louisiana and nationwide – must abide by current laws regarding copyrights, trademarks and patents.