The Las Vegas artist behind the Statue of Liberty replica outside New York-New York will have several million reasons to celebrate this Independence Day.
Robert Davidson was awarded nearly $3.6 million last week by a federal court that ruled the U.S. Postal Service infringed his copyright when it mistakenly used an image of his statue on a stamp.
The government agency began issuing the stamp that depicted a close-up of the Las Vegas-based Lady Liberty in December 2010. The Postal Service believed it was the face of the Lady Liberty that has stood in the New York Harbor since 1886.
“Originally, they didn’t know it wasn’t the real Liberty, but it is a great picture, so I’m not at all surprised that they would use it,” said Randy Shepard, owner of Vegas Stamps and Hobbies on West Washington Avenue and North Rainbow Boulevard. “And I think it’s pretty cool that it ended being a Vegas statue.”
Davidson did not return a request for comment, but his lawyer Todd Bice released a statement to the Review-Journal Tuesday.
“Robert Davidson is pleased that after a full trial, the Federal Court of Claims recognized the significance of his artistic work in creating the Las Vegas Lady Liberty statue and enforcing his copyright,” said Bice, of the Las Vegas law firm Pisanelli Bice.
Bice said he expects the Postal Service to appeal the decision.
Davidson, born and raised in Las Vegas, completed the Statue of Liberty replica in 1996 for MGM Resorts International, when the casino operator opened its latest theme casino New York-New York.
Davidson said in court documents that he wanted to give his replica a face that was “a little more modern, a little more feminine” and looked for inspiration from a photograph of his mother-in-law, Lucille Schwartz.
The Las Vegas replica stands 150 feet tall from base to torch and weighs 150 tons compared with 305 feet, pedastal foundation to tip of torch, and 225 tons for the original statue. The replica took 11 months to complete.
Davidson spent $152,000 on material and labor to complete his part of the statue, including the face. He was paid a total of $385,000 for his work, according to court documents.
The artist placed a small plaque in memory of his mother-in-law on the crown of the statue.
The U.S. Postal Service began a search in the late 2000s for a new “patriotic” stamp to replace the image of the Liberty Bell that had been in circulation for years.
A postal committee decided to issue two separate stamps, one of the Statue of Liberty and one of the U.S. flag.
Terry McCaffrey, a Postal Service manager in charge of choosing the image for the new stamps, searched a stock photo database provided to him by contractor PhotoAssist for images of the flag and Lady Liberty.
The U.S. Postal Service had used an image of the Statue of Liberty on a stamp 23 times in the past. Thus, McCaffrey wanted to find an image that “was very different from anything we’ve done before,” according to the court documents.
The manager initially selected 24 photos before picking the two winners, which included the photo of Davidson’s replica. McCaffrey paid $1,200 to Getty Images for the license to use the photo.
The Postal Service manager thought he had chosen a photo depicting the actual statue in New York, according to court documents.
The U.S. Postal Service began issuing the stamps in December 2010. In March 2011, an employee at Sunipix, a stock photography company, notified the Postal Service that the Lady Liberty on the stamp was the Las Vegas replica, according to court documents. The documents do not say how the employee spotted the difference. By then, the Postal Service had produced billions of stamps with Davidson’s Lady Liberty.
Upon hearing what happened, Davidson copyrighted his creation and filed suit in November 2013 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims for infringement.
“If my name was on the stamp, then everybody would immediately recognize it was me,’’ Davidson said when asked why he sought compensation, according to court records.
4.9 billion stamps
About 4.9 billion stamps with Davidson’s Lady Liberty were sold, generating $2.1 billion in sales for the Postal Service, according to court filings. The Postal Service estimates it made a $71 million profit on the sale of the stamps.
“It’s a fairly common stamp,” Shepard said, adding that the stamp is popular as well.
“Ironically, the more popular the stamp, the less collector’s value it has,” he said.
The Postal Service argued in court that Davidson’s replica contains “no truly original work” and thus it need not compensate him.
The court said a replica can be copyrighted if it is a new and original expression of a previous work.
Davidson’s Lady Liberty face is “unmistakably different” from the original statue and that is what drove McCaffrey to choose it, the court ruled. The Postal Service could not immediately be reached for comment.
“Davidson hopes that the Postal Service will at long last own up to what it did and recognizing his rights,” Bice said in the statement.
Artist started in stucco
According to court documents, Robert Davidson got his start in the construction industry with Valley Plastering in the early 1970s, starting as a water boy hosing down Las Vegas stucco exteriors.
He climbed the corporate ladder over a period of 16 years, reaching the position of executive vice president before leaving in 1987 to start his own business.
In the early 1990s, Davidson was contracted to do plaster and stucco work on the Luxor Hotel. When another subcontractor could not complete the face of the 110-foot Sphinx statue, Davidson volunteered to take it over.
During the three months he worked on the Sphinx, Davidson became acquainted with Tracy Jones from Western Architecture. Jones then introduced Davidson to the company contracting out work for the Statue of Liberty replica.
Davidson continues to work in the construction industry.