Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Heir Apparent

My recent post on Vivian Maier's copyright sparked some interesting replies. By far the most surprising response I received was the news that Vivian Maier does in fact have an heir, and that all of the copyright issues regarding her work have been settled through that heir. This was reported by a knowledgeable source and confirmed by John Maloof. 

To the best of my knowledge, here's what happened. 

In order to make reproductions of Vivian Maier's work, and more importantly to sell that work through galleries, all outstanding copyright considerations needed to be settled. The problem for John Maloof, Jeff Goldstein, and anyone else wishing to market her work is that Maier had no known heirs, in which case copyright would've naturally reverted to the state of Illinois where she died. This copyright was probably worth very little when she died. But largely thanks to the efforts of Maloof, Maier's posthumous career has blossomed. The copyright is now worth a considerable sum.  

Maloof and Goldstein hired a genealogist —four of them actually— and visited a French village with connections to Maier. They were able to locate Maier's closest living relative, who was the heir and unwitting copyright owner. Maloof and Maier then made a legal arrangement which transferred copyright control to them, freeing the way for Maier's work to be sold. 

The heir wishes to remain anonymous. I don't know the identity, the relationship, or the legal arrangement. 

None of this is illegal or especially shocking. But I do think it transforms the general understanding of Vivian Maier's legacy (a good summary of the previous worldview is here). To my knowledge none of this information has not yet been reported in any media outlet.* In fact most stories about Maier continue to claim the opposite. The fact she died with no heirs feeds into the romantic fable. But as with all romance, the initial blush is beginning to wear off. What else might there be underneath?

*Update: Yesterday, this feature appeared in the Chicago Reader, also noting the copyright/heir connection.


Dmitry Samarov said...

Goldstein told me the same thing when I met him last Sunday. I'm working on a Maier story. Here are some useful links for people who are interested: http://arterms.com/2014/04/28/a-vivian-maier-primer/

Richard M said...

Thanks for playing investigative journalist, Blake. Does that make you a full-on feature writer and photojournalist now? I think this clarity in the story adds to the mystique - it's a very modern coda to an historical story. It's a ripping yarn, too. Maloof and Goldstein have done a stirling job with it all.

6 ft white rabbit said...

The public perception of the ethical situation has been uncomfortably ambiguous for so long that it's really nice to see Maloof clearly emerge as a stand-up guy. Kudos to him in his efforts.

Interesting that the strain of guarded privacy runs so strongly in the Maier family, and that is has continued to be a tightrope for the curators of her legacy to tip-toe across.

Hernan Zenteno said...

Common, now appears an heir. After all this years. Are there a testament, a real will of Vivian Maier to pass her things to this anonymous person? What happen with all the value that added Maloof and Goldstein? This thing is converting this magical discovery of some great photos into a financial news soap opera. Now will start the run for biographies and a fever for the books. What would think this woman after all this year of secret photos? just I wonder.

pepeye said...

Somebody over in Europe somewhere just got a wonderful gift from their great aunt Vivian (whom they'ed never ever met or even heard of before.

devid mark said...

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