Lady Liberty’s twin gives postal service an Internet law headache

Some of the extra money the U.S. Postal Service receives, after California residents start forking over an additional 3 cents for a first-class stamp next month, may go to legal fees. USPS has been named more than once recently in copyright infringement lawsuits.

The designer of the Korean War Memorial sued the agency over using a photo of his sculpture on a stamp without his permission. The artist was the recipient of a $685,000 damage award in September. According to the Washington Post, the sculptor will also receive 10 percent from the sales of USPS collector stamps or merchandise bearing the sculpture’s image.

A similar case is underway over the Statue of Liberty’s “sultry” twin.

A sculpted, bow-lipped replica of Lady Liberty greets the huddled masses at a Las Vegas casino. A photo of the artwork was stocked on Internet photo provider Getty Images and chosen by USPS for the “Forever” stamp.

The government agency sold about 4 billion stamps depicting what they thought was a picture of New York Harbor’s Statue of Liberty. The stamp remained in circulation, even after postal officials learned the statue in the Lady Liberty photo was a replica. The stamp continues to be sold, with a new 49-cent price tag effective in January,

Now, the sculptor wants a federal court to back his belief that the post office infringed upon a copyrighted work of art. Attorneys’ compensation arguments may focus on a USPS spokesperson’s statement, that the statue photo would have been the agency’s choice, no matter what.

The design for the original Statue of Liberty is in the public domain. The new case could reach settlement before a court decides whether photos, sculpted replicas and other artistic interpretations of the famous statue are protected works.

Uniqueness is not an easily defined quality, but it is a crucial factor when juries rule whether an intellectual property law has been broken.

Source: Forbes, “The U.S. Postal Service Gets the Wrong Address on Copyright” Jess Collen, Dec. 17, 2013