The stamp's image wasn't of the iconic sculpture in New York City, and instead featured a replica that stands in Las Vegas, Nevada

By Caitlin Keating
July 06, 2018 02:07 PM
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While a First-Class Mail Forever stamp costs a mere 50 cents, the U.S. Postal Service is forking a lot more for an error they made eight years ago.

On December 1, 2010, the United States Postal Service came out with a Forever stamp featuring the image of the Statue of Liberty. Except it wasn’t the actual iconic statue in New York City. Instead, the photo was of the replica that stands at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.

On Friday, a federal judge awarded Las Vegas sculptor Robert Davidson $3.5 million for the Postal Service’s mix-up.

According to the lawsuit, which is available online, three billion of the paired stamps had been printed when the mistake was revealed in March 2011 after a stock photography company, Sunipix, emailed the postmaster general’s inbox with the correct credit information.

The company continued to sell the stamps. Ultimately, 4.9 billion of the (faux) Lady Liberty stamps were sold, bringing in over $2.1 billion in sales, according to the court documents.

The mistake began, the lawsuit says, when a stamp development manager — who was gathering possible imagery for a new stamp — picked stock images of the Statue of Liberty. The manager didn’t realize they had picked an image that wasn’t of the original statue.

USA, New York, New York City, View of Statue of Liberty against blue sky
Credit: Getty Images

Davidson discovered the use of his statue by the Postal Service when his wife returned from a trip to a local post office, according to the lawsuit. She bought a book of Forever stamps and told her husband that “our statue is on the stamp.”

He then contacted an attorney regarding copyrighting his work. In January 2012, Davidson’s wife filed a copyright application on his behalf, the suit said.

Davidson said in the lawsuit that if the Postal Service would have asked permission to use the image before producing it, he would have sought out advice on the value of it, according to court documents.

In a response to the ruling, Davidson’s attorney, Todd Bice, told CNN in an email statement that “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.”

Bice added, “For too long, the Postal Service has endeavored to ignore the rights of artists like Mr. Davidson, simply taking intellectual property with after-the-fact offers of nominal compensation.”

The Postal Service told PEOPLE in a written statement that “we are reviewing the decision and will comment if and when appropriate.”