The Estate of Vivian Maier has sued collector Jeffrey Goldstein for copyright infringement and other claims, alleging unauthorized copying, exhibition and print sales of the late photographer’s work. The estate is seeking unspecified damages and lost profits for the alleged violations.
According to the estate’s claim, Goldstein acquired approximately 2,000 vintage Maier prints, 20,000 of her black-and-white negative and slides, 1,700 of her color negatives, and 300 rolls of undeveloped film. Goldstein acquired all of the material after Maier’s death in 2009, according to the lawsuit, which was filed last week in a federal court in Chicago.
“This complaint is to seek redress against [Goldstein and his company, Vivian Maier Prints Inc.] for their large-scale copyright infringement operations and deceptive acts that have misappropriate the Estate’s copyrighted works, trademark, and intellectual property,” the estate says in its filing.
Goldstein had sued the estate in February 2015 for “unjust enrichment,” several months after the estate had started asserting its copyrights in 2014. Goldstein had argued that through his efforts, he had created the value of Maier’s copyrights and that he should therefore be entitled to an interest in her works. His lawsuit was dismissed in January 2016, according to court papers.
Maier died without a will, without any known heirs, and also without any recognition as a photographer: She had never shown any of her work during her lifetime. The photographic prints, negatives and undeveloped film she left behind were discovered in a Chicago storage locker and sold to collectors after her death. Among the buyers were Goldstein and another collector, John Maloof, who helped bring acclaim to Maier’s work, turning her into a legend posthumously with books of her work and a documentary film about her mysterious life.
In 2014, the state of Illinois designated a state administrator to manage Maier’s estate. The administrator immediately went to court to assert control of her copyrights. (Nobody has successfully established themselves as one of Maier’s heirs.)
Under 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—in this case, the Vivian Maier Estate—has the right to copy and distribute the works.
Last May, the estate reached a settlement with Maloof that allowed him to continue exploiting his Vivian Maier negatives for the mutual benefit of himself and the estate. The terms of the settlement were undisclosed.
The estate had also petitioned an Illinois state court in 2014 to “discover and/or recover [Maier’s] assets from Goldstein.” That petition was granted. While the estate was trying to negotiate with Goldstein over the use of prints and negatives in his possession, he allegedly sold them to the Stephen Bulger Gallery in Toronto. Goldstein filed his unsuccessful lawsuit against the estate a short time later.
“Both Goldstein and Bulger believed that transferring the negatives out of the reach of the U.S. and Illinois courts would impede the enforcement efforts of the estate,” the estate asserts in its lawsuit against Goldstein.
In its lawsuit, the estate alleges 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 o the photographs, and the creation and sale of prints.”
The estate is seeking a court order forcing Goldsteain to disgorge his profits from all of those alleged activities. The estate is also seeking access to the physical copies of the negatives that Goldstein owns—so the estate can exploit its copyrights in the works. And the estate is also asking the court to force Goldstein to hand over all illegal copies of the Maier negatives.
In addition, the estate is also claiming trademark infringement, alleging that Goldstein is profiting illegally from the estate’s trademark in the name Vivian Maier. Goldstein is also deceiving the public into believing that his business represents the estate, according to the lawsuit.
PDN was unable to locate Goldstein for comment.
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