Vivian Maier Estate sues Jeffrey Goldstein for Copyright and Trademark infringement

Apr 25, 2017

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Vivian Maier Estate sues Jeffrey Goldstein for Copyright and Trademark infringement

Apr 25, 2017

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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A while ago, Vivian Maier Estate entered a complicated legal battle against the owners of the photographer’s work. This time, they are filing a claim against Jeffrey Goldstein, one of the collectors who owns a part of Maier’s collection.

The estate is alleging copyright infringement: unauthorized copying, exhibition and print sales of the photographer’s work. In addition, they are claiming trademark infringement, alleging that Goldstein is profiting illegally from the estate’s trademark.

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The late photographer’s work first ended up with three buyers: John Maloof, Ron Slattery and Randy Prow in 2007. In early 2010, Jeffrey Goldstein bought a part of the work from Prow. According to the estate, Goldstein acquired approximately 2,000 Maier’s prints, 20,000 of her black-and-white negative and slides, 1,700 of her color negatives, and 300 rolls of undeveloped film.

The estate claims that “Goldstein wrongfully created copies of the copyrighted Maier photographs without the estate’s consent, and engaged in acts of widespread infringement through posting the photographs via online websites, the organization of public exhibitions, the publication of books containing reprints of the photographs, and the creation and sale of prints.” Therefore, they are now seeking a court order that would force Goldstein to disgorge all the profits he gained from these activities.

This legal battle is not new. It started in 2014, when the estate petitioned an Illinois state court to discover and/or recover Maier’s assets from Goldstein. The petition was granted, but allegedly, Goldstein sold the prints and negatives Stephen Bulger Gallery in Toronto while the estate was trying to negotiate with him over the use of Maier’s work.

In February 2015, Goldstein sued the estate for “unjust enrichment,” but his lawsuit was dismissed in January 2016.

According to the copyright law, “the owner of the physical copies of a copyrighted work may buy, sell and trade those physical copies, but not copy or distribute them. Only the copyright owner has the right to copy and distribute the works.” In this case, the owner of the physical copies is Goldstein, but Vivian Maier Estate is the copyright holder, so they court may support their claim.

Vivian Maier died without a will, and without known living heirs. Her photographic work was unknown to the public before it went to the auction. And it’s questionable whether her photos would have ever seen the light of day if there hadn’t been for the collectors who bought them. The credits for this go especially to Goldstein and Maloof, who popularized her photos all over the world.

I am not a lawyer, and I can’t accurately predict how this may end up for Goldstein. But if it weren’t for him and Maloof, I’m pretty sure I would never discover Maier’s work. And for me, discovering her work was quite a big impression and big news. On the other hand, you can’t go against the law. If Vivian Maier Estate is the copyright owner of late photographer’s works, Goldstein may find himself in a problem here.

What do you think? How will this end up for Goldstein, and does the Vivian Maier Estate has the solid grounds for filing a lawsuit?

[via PDN Pulse]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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12 responses to “Vivian Maier Estate sues Jeffrey Goldstein for Copyright and Trademark infringement”

  1. Jimmy Harris Avatar
    Jimmy Harris

    She died without a will and without any known living heirs? Who’s in charge of her estate then? And if she never published her work, then how is it copyrighted?

    1. Dunja0712 Avatar
      Dunja0712

      Maier’s cousin appeared a while after the images were already known to the public, so my assumption is that he’s the only known legal heir and also in charge of the estate. And I agree with Alecio – the only reason “Vivian Maier Estate” exists is because of people who discovered the images in the first place.

    2. catlett Avatar
      catlett

      This is a common misunderstanding but you don’t have to file a copyright to own the copyright to the works you create. Everything you have originally written, drawn or photographed is copyrighted at least in US law. Most other countries I have read about seem to have the same deal.

  2. Alecio P Avatar
    Alecio P

    If it wasn’t for the guy who discovered Vivian’s photos she would never be known in first place, and the only reason “Vivian Maier Estate” exists because of that discover

  3. Martin Gillette Avatar
    Martin Gillette

    What!!? A woman who had np known relatives, lived by herself and stayed to herself, has an estate?

    1. Dunja Đuđić Avatar
      Dunja Đuđić

      It’s a cousin, and I think Maloof tracked him down. I just wonder would he be so eager to get the copyright ownership if the buyers didn’t publish those works and made them known to the public…

    2. Robert J. Lazzarini Avatar
      Robert J. Lazzarini

      Greed!

    3. Martin Gillette Avatar
      Martin Gillette

      It seems to me that the negatives were bought in good faith at a yard sale. These photos could never have been copyrighted. The photos belong to the buyers. What a crazy world.

  4. Nicholas Kau Avatar
    Nicholas Kau

    Everybodys gotta get their cut.

  5. Robert J. Lazzarini Avatar
    Robert J. Lazzarini

    Vivian Maier died without a will, and without known living heirs. Her photographic work was unknown to the public before it went to the auction. It’s questionable whether her photos would have ever seen the light of day if there hadn’t been for the collectors who bought them. The credits for this go especially to Goldstein and Maloof, who popularized her photos all over the world.

  6. VR Avatar
    VR

    How does this end for Jeffrey Goldstein? Not well at first glance. The lawsuit claims he’s now living in North Carolina. Was he hounded out of his hometown? It would seem so. But maybe he’s just taken on new project. If Jeff prevails, it will cost him all his Vivian Maier profits and good portion of his original investment – but maybe he doesn’t care. Jeff’s lawyer claims Cook County is venue shopping after failing to get satisfaction in probate court. We’ll see how that flies.

    Really what is the point of this “Estate”? No heirs have been found. The administrator to my knowledge has ruled out any legitimacy of Vivian’s surviving relatives in France. Vivian Maier’s brother supposedly is buried in New Jersey. We never hear anything from the administrator about the brother or any children he may have had. This may or may not be in active investigation.

    So the point it seems to me is to simply create a revenue stream for Cook County in perpetuity. This is unconscionable.

  7. Stephen Restelli Avatar
    Stephen Restelli

    Prior to 1964 copyrights only ran for 28 years unless renewed. So by 1992 if not renewed they would become public domain.
    Copyright law evolved after 1964 for much longer periods of time. But that does not change when the photographs were taken.
    Also developing film would give the developer owner these rights, IMO, because he created the images, prints and negatives….. not VM, as no prints or negatives existed until the new owner developed them.
    This scenario is like the story of someone putting money in the slot machine and having a stranger pull the arm. The courts say the winner is not the one who put the money in, but the one who pulled the lever to win the jackpot.