A Fight Over A Postage Stamp

Korean War Stamp_1On September 20, 2013, the U.S. Postal Service was ordered to pay well over a half-million dollars to Frank Gaylord. He is a sculptor, the artist responsible for the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., which is managed by the National Park Service for the American People. (Let’s not forget: when the U.S. Postal Service writes the big check, they’re paying him with my money, and yours).

The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp picturing the work,  based upon a photograph whose rights were cleared prior to the stamp’s publication.

For several years, the Postal Service and Mr. Gaylord have been caught in a legal tussle about copyright infringement. It’s interesting, confusing (as these cases tend to be), and provides a useful snapshot of U.S. Copyright Law, Fair Use, the rights of artists, questions about public property, and more.

Here’s a quick rundown on the story from Stanford University’s CIS (Center for Internet and Law):

One of the important questions the case presents is whether this stamp makes fair use of the statue that appears in it. The image you see is a photograph of a sculpture taken at dawn in a snowstorm. The sculpture itself is called The Column, and is part of the Korean War Veterans’ Memorial in Washington DC. It features nineteen larger-than-life soldiers arranged in two columns, representing a platoon of soldiers on patrol in the Korean War. The Postal Service got permission to use the photograph that appears on the stamp, but not the column depicted in it, so the sculptor sued the Postal Service for infringing his copyrights in the sculpture.

The ruling is here.

A detailed analysis prepared by Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society is here, and well worth reading, especially if you’re (a) interested in the ways of copyright law, and/or (b) a creative professional whose understanding of fair use could be more complete.

The story about the ruling, and the reason why the case is suddenly in the news, is here on Digital Photography Review. DPReview does a fine job in explaining the story, so there’s no reason for me to repeat it here.

I will, however, offer a picture of the stamp. In fact, I could not find a US Postal Service image of the stamp, but I did find a picture of the stamp from the Stanford CIS site:

So here are questions in my mind at the moment:

1 – If I reprint Stanford’s picture of a U.S. stamp on this website, am I violating Stanford’s rights? Is such a clearance necessary?

2 – Did Stanford get permission from the U.S. Postal Service to show the picture of that stamp on its website? Was such a clearance necessary?

3 – If Stanford did not get permission, do I need to get permission?

4 – If you decide to forward this article, stamp included, do you need to get permission from me, or have I already granted that permission through some online agreement with WordPress that I’ve forgotten all about?

I am still wading through the articles myself. I can’t help but wonder whether the sculptor ought to  share compensation with general or specific Korean War Veterans whose images were depicted as statues or, at least, served as inspiration. And, like you, I am confused because I thought a Memorial was, somehow, public property.

Comments always welcome.

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