US Postal Service Must Pay Artist $540,000 for Using His Art on Stamp

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld an earlier decision against the United States Postal Service (USPS) that it must pay an artist $540,000 for the unauthorized reproduction of his artwork on a postal stamp. In its ruling dated February 4, the court said that “10 percent of $5.4 million in revenue (which was almost pure profit) was a reasonable royalty for the United States to pay as damages for its unauthorized use of a distinctive copyrighted work on a postage stamp.”

The artist Frank Gaylord, a World War II veteran, created The Column to serve as the Korean War Veterans Memorial, an installation showing 19 life-size soldiers in stainless steel statues that depicting a uniformed squad on patrol. In January 1996, roughly six months after the memorial was completed, an amateur photographer named John Alli visited the memorial during a snowstorm and photographed the work.

In 2002, the USPS decided to issue a stamp to commemorate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Korean War armistice. “From the very outset of the process of selecting an image for the commemoration, the relevant Postal Service advisory committee fastened onto the idea of using The Column on the stamp,” according to the ruling. “It selected Mr. Alli’s photograph of The Column for the stamp face, and it paid Mr. Alli a one-time fee of $1,500 for the right to use his photo.

The Postal Service did not seek Mr. Gaylord’s consent to use The Column—the photograph was a ‘derivative work’…—before issuing the stamp in 2003 and Mr. Gaylord never gave his consent.”


Gaylord sued for copyright infringement in 2006.

In affirming the earlier decision made by the Court of Federal Claims, the appeals court ruling stated: “Mr. Alli has already been paid and the government does not seek reversal to subtract that $1,500 payment. What remains is to apportion the revenues, here equaling the gains, to Mr. Gaylord’s contribution. The 90/10 split accomplishes that goal.”


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