Legal battles continue over ownership of Vivian Maier’s work

The legal case to determine whether Mr. Baille is Maier’s closest relative has now set in motion a process that Chicago officials say could take years and could result in Maier’s works’ being pulled from gallery inventories and museum shows until a determination is made.”
The Heir’s Not Apparent, New York Times

I wrote about the legal issues surrounding the rightful heir and owner of Vivian Maier‘s substantial body of work last year. The New York Times just published an overview of where the subject stands now, detailing a legal case filed in June 2014 which might force John Maloof and other owners of Maier’s negatives to cease publications and exhibitions of the work. In short, Virginia lawyer David C. Deal, himself a former photographer, thought that something wasn’t right in the way Maier’s copyright had been handled and searched for relatives of the nanny.

Screenshot of VivianMaier.com, the John Maloof collection
Screenshot of VivianMaier.com, the John Maloof collection

Maloof, owner of the largest collection of Maier’s negatives and prints (and producer and director of Finding Vivian Maier and countless exhibitions), had previously found a person in France who he’d thought was Maier’s closest living relative and agreed on an undisclosed settlement for the rights to the work. Deal believes he has found a closer relative of Maier’s, again in France, and now represents that person in a court case to determine whether or not he is the photographer’s closest heir. It’s a tangled case that will likely take years, but at the heart is a copyright issue.

The Vivian Maier industry (in the form of books, exhibitions, prints for sale, movies, television programs, and so on) is already worth millions of dollars. If this new possible heir is determined to be the rightful owner of the copyright, it could lead to substantial copyright infringement claims relating to most every instance of Vivian Maier’s work that has been seen in public. According to the New York Times, the state public administrator’s office in Cook County, Illinois, created an estate for Vivian Maier in July and warned Maloof and others selling the work that there may be future lawsuits over Maier’s work.

Hyperallergic also recently published a couple of articles regarding the legal issues surrounding Vivian Maier’s archive that are worth a read: Making Sense of the Legal Battle Over Vivian Maier’s Artworks and A Vivian Maier Collector Opens Up About Posthumous Printing, Maier’s Only Heir, and Her Legacy.

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