Revisiting Vivian Maier

Shortly after the insightful review of the acclaimed documentary, “Finding Vivian Maier”, written for us by Michael Masterson and found here, news surfaced with an interesting development around her work. Michael filed this update for us:

Subsequent to the original post, there has been a new legal twist regarding Maier’s work and estate. The New York Times reports that David C. Deal, a lawyer and former photographer, filed suit in Cook County, Chicago claiming the assets of Maier’s estate properly belong to a first cousin once removed of hers in France. John Maloof had hired genealogists himself to determine if there were legitimate heirs and found a different first cousin once removed, Sylvain Jaussaud, to whom he paid an undisclosed amount for the rights to her work. Now Mr. Deal has uncovered another first cousin once removed named Frances Baille who never knew of Maier or her work. Maloof also found Baille in his research but determined that Jaussaud was a closer relation. Deal’s suit resulted in Cook County creating an estate for Maier and warning those selling her work, including Maloof and others, of the potential for lawsuits regarding ownership. As a result, some galleries have suspended sales and exhibitions pending legal clarification.

Because owning a negative or print is different from owning a copyright, Maloof has been pursuing copyright registration for the works he owns based on his agreement with Jaussaud.  He’s concerned that this legal wrinkle could force removal of Maier’s works from the public, depriving the world of her unique vision. However, Deal says it is “profoundly unfair” for others without copyright registrations to profit from Maier’s work rather than her legal heirs. When questioned about his own motives in pursuing this, Deal stated that he was interested in the legal challenge and would only like to come “out on the other end of this issue breaking even.” He says that Baille only wants to be compensated for what is legally his. Unfortunately, the copyright kerfuffle could result in the curtain being drawn back around Vivian Maier’s work for years to come.

Many thanks to Michael for keeping us informed.

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