When people look at the face of the Statue of Liberty, they think, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
What they don’t think is “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”
For someone, that was a costly mistake.
It turns out that the U.S. Postal Service should have realized they were looking at a picture of a female statue rising on the Las Vegas Strip, not on an island in New York Harbor, when choosing the model for a Statue of Liberty Forever stamp that was produced in 2010. The mistake would cost the government a sum of $3.5 million in a lost lawsuit.
Robert Davidson, the artist who designed the Las Vegas replica statue, which stands outside the New York-New York Casino Hotel, sued for copyright infringement when he realized that his work was the inspiration for the stamp. And a judge ruled in his favor in early July 2018.
According to a story in USA Today, Davidson’s attorneys argued his version of Lady Liberty is unmistakably different from the original, because it is more “fresh-faced,” “sultry,” and “sexier.” Postal Service defense attorneys said the versions were too similar to notice any differences.
The U.S. Postal Service reportedly made $70 million in profit from the stamp, which was retired in 2014.
It seems that at some point the Postal Service officials apparently realized that they had used the “wrong” Statue of Liberty as a model for the stamp but didn’t think it was a big deal.
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“We really like the image and are thrilled that people have noticed in a sense,” a USPS spokesman told CNN in 2011. “It’s something that people really like. If you ask people in Vegas, they’re saying, ‘Hey, That’s great. That’s wonderful.’ It’s certainly injected some excitement into our stamp program.”
Excitement notwithstanding, there’s no question that the U.S. Postal Service failed to realize they were using a Las Vegas image at the beginning. The Post Office “had used Getty Images to find a suitable photo of the Statue of Liberty, and they picked an image by photographer Raimund Linke, not seeing that the keywords on the page clearly stated that the photo shows the replica in Vegas,” reported PetaPixel.
An attentive stamp collector noticed that the image in the stamp was not based on the photo of the Statue of Liberty and notified the U.S. Postal Service. But this discovery came after more than 3 billion of the stamps were already printed.
“As the court noted, Mr. Davidson’s artistic creation of the Las Vegas Lady Liberty is highly unique and attractive, which is what prompted the US Postal Service to select a photo of his work for the second ever Forever Stamp, over hundreds of other images,” Davidson attorney Todd Bice told the Associated Press.
All of this might leave the original Statue of Liberty feeling a trifle insulted.
But what must be remembered is that the revered statue, which is 151 feet tall from the base to the torch, is really quite old. Designed by French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi as a gift to the United States from the people of France and depicting Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, it is a robed female figure who holds a torch and a legal tablet with the date of the Declaration of Independence: July 4, 1776.
The statue was dedicated in 1886. Its outer layer was largely copper, and over the years, it changed color from brown to green, as part of the oxidation process.
Now when it comes to the Las Vegas statue, she rises in front of the New York-New York casino hotel, which cost more than $400 million to build and opened in 1997. The statue is made of plaster mud, acrylic-based coating, and foam.
Davidson said he focused on making his statue appear more feminine. The problem with the original, rising in New York Harbor, is that it had “masculine” facial features, he said in court.
Nancy Bilyeau, a former staff editor at Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and InStyle, has written a trilogy of historical thrillers for Touchstone Books. For more information, go to www.nancybilyeau.com.