Vivian Maier’s Work May Disappear, Again

This is fascinating and disturbing on many levels – the work of an unknown photographer, Vivian Maier, that was discovered at an auction several years ago and who has since been heralded as one of the great street photographers, is now heading into the courts over copyright claims.

As someone who truly appreciates the work she did and is intrigued by her story (a French nanny who worked in Chicago and New York and never showed her work to anyone), I will hate to see it disappear from the public view. But as a staunch supporter of copyright protections, I think it must. The gentleman who found the trove of 100,000 negatives and has been meticulously preserving, digitizing and printing them (along with showing the work in galleries, museums, books and a film) does have physical possession of the images but does not have the legal right to do anything with them.

To those who have never looked into copyright law, this may seem odd, but it is the core foundation of it – the creator of a work and, for 70 years after their passing, their heirs, controls what can be done with those works. The law is clear – if a legal heir to Maier is found, they control the work.

Now, is the lawyer who has hunted down an heir looking for fame or fortune? Hard to tell as he claims he hopes to break even on this case.

This will be very interesting in the coming years.

Mark E. Johnson

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