A perpetually troubled government agency notorious for its egregious spending sprees and dire financial woes has been ordered by a federal court to pay an artist millions of dollars for copyright infringement.
Even for the beleaguered U.S. Postal Service (USPS), a bastion of mismanagement, this appears to be a new low. The settlement and legal costs accrued during years of litigation could have easily been avoided if the scandal-plagued agency wasn’t so negligent.
The USPS knowingly featured an artist’s modified replica of the Statue of Liberty on a stamp rather than the original on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. It wasn’t a mistake, but rather typical USPS carelessness. The copy was created by a sculptor named Robert Davidson for a Las Vegas casino. The artist reportedly softened the famous American icon’s face in the casino version by using a picture of his mother-in-law.
When the USPS launched the forever stamp in 2011, it was obvious to many that it illustrated the modified artist’s version and not the original statue, which was a gift of friendship from France to the United States and is considered a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. In 2013 the artist sued for copyright infringement.
The USPS asserted that Davidson had no copyright over an iconic symbol, even though it was an artistically modified version of the original that makes it unique. The government made a killing—about $70 million—selling the Statue of Liberty stamp but insisted it owed the artist nothing. The United States Court of Federal Claims, which hears private monetary claims against the government, disagreed blasting the USPS for offering neither public attribution nor apology for using the artist’s work.
The court determined that Davidson’s replica of the Statue of Liberty is an original sculpture protected by copyright laws and recently ordered the USPS to pay him $3.5 million for royalties he would have made had he negotiated a license with the agency. “A comparison of the two faces unmistakably shows that they are different,” the court order states. “We agree that Mr. Davidson’s statue evokes a softer and more feminine appeal. The eyes are different, the jaw line is less massive and the whole face is more rounded.”
Profiting from an artist’s stolen work is simply the latest of many transgressions committed by the USPS in recent years. Judicial Watch has reported extensively on the USPS’s ongoing troubles and monstrous financial problems. In two recent quarters the USPS reported that it lost an eye-popping $1.9 billion and $1.5 billion despite an operating revenue increase. On the heels of that astounding news, a federal audit slammed the USPS for blowing the opportunity to save nearly $22 million had it bothered to maintain its fleet of vehicles more efficiently.
A few years before that the USPS blew hundreds of thousands of dollars on professional sports tickets, booze and fancy meals while it claimed to be crippled by an $8.3 billion deficit. The items were purchased by USPS managers and employees with special charge cards issued to U.S. government agencies. These serious blunders are par for the course at the nation’s postal agency, which simply turns to Congress—and taxpayers—for bailouts whenever it digs a hole for itself.
The USPS’s top executives have also been found to receive illegally high salary and compensation packages that should outrage American taxpayers. A USPS Inspector General report disclosed that at least three USPS officers made more than the legal compensation limit for their respective work category in recent years. At the time two former USPS officials were set to collect monstrous “deferred executive retention bonuses”—former Postmaster General John Potter $786,301 and former Chief Information Officer Ross Philo $642,999—while the agency was billions in the red.