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.
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]