Postage Stamps, Public Artworks and Copyright Infringement
You heard right on both counts! (Good for you, but shouldn’t you be outside playing?)
The most valuable US stamp collected is the “Inverted Jenny”, where the image of a biplane was printed upside down on about 100 stamps. A block of four of these sold for $2.97 million in October 2014. There are many mistakes that make stamps valuable, especially when the mistake is caught and only a very small number of defective stamps make it into circulation, rather than into the shredder at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving.
The Postal Service knew before issuing the stamp that they had the wrong lady, but, according to Davidson’s lawyers (see, you knew there were lawyers mixed up in here somehow), the USPS went ahead anyway without seeking a license from Davidson. The printed a few stamps: about 4 billion at first. In 2013, Davidson filed a law suit claiming copyright infringement. He asked for damages, but did not specify in his complaint how much those might be.
In a similar suit that the USPS lost, a sculptor was awarded $685,000 after the Postal Service used a photo of a Korean War memorial he had designed. The court awarded a royalty of 10% on sales of the stamps to collectors and on sales of merchandise featuring the stamp design (but not on stamps sold just to be used a postage and thrown away.)
Recently, in the Davidson case, Federal Claims Court Judge Eric G. Bruggink rejected summary judgment motions, and scheduled a trial to begin on September 11, 2017. The USPS argued that, “photographic copying of a public architectural work does not constitute copyright infringement.” “The premise behind the government’s defense is … wrong,” Judge Bruggink wrote.
The “Doc” has no idea how much Mr. Davidson will be awarded at trial. The Doc also has no idea how much of a cut the lawyers will get, or whether MGM Resorts International, which owns the New York, New York Casino will just come up three bars and walk away with the pot. Perhaps the best summation is the one offered by Mr. Gordon Absher, spokesman for MGM Resorts International, “Everyone thought the post office was honoring just one great American institution when in reality they were honoring two – the Statue of Liberty and Las Vegas.”
And there you have it, folks…a handy new definition of a “great American institution.” By that calculus, Ms. Kim Kardashian’s derriere is, as well, and the Doc will leave you to ponder the state of what makes America great nowadays.
Have a question about unauthorized reproduction of your copyrighted work? Call the attorneys at the firm of LW&H…truly a Great American Institution. Until next month, stay cool.