It's Even More Complicated With the Vivian Maier Case

During her life in the 1950's and 60's Vivian Maier shot hundreds of rolls of film, sometimes never bothering to have them processed. Her eye for composition and contrast made the images some of the best captured depicting city life during that time, but at the time of her death, no one knew her name or the boxes upon boxes full of negatives that sat in storage lockers in Chicago.

2 years before Maier's death in 2009 a young real estate agent named John Maloof purchases a box of Maier's belongings at auction in 2007 and discovers her photography. He would later go on to promote and produce a documentary on Maier's work and give it the respect it deserved. Acclaim quickly followed and the attention drew lawyers out in search of heirs (2nd cousins once removed were found). As the lawyers and courts begin to work out the details to who rightfully owns the work and copyright, a new detail emerges to complicate a complicated matter even further... She kept her work in storage lockers that she stopped paying for... Did the storage companies contract entitle them to her possessions by not paying her bills?

How storage lockers and distant relatives change the Vivian Maier case

Maier died without leaving a will or immediate next of kin, which means that her estate, along with the rights to her photos, would have gone to her closest living relative. As far as anyone knew, that relative was a cousin in France named Sylvain Jaussaud, who figures quite prominently in Maloof's documentary, "Finding Vivian Maier."

But a report by Randy Kennedy in The New York Times last week reveals that there might be another cousin in France, a man by the name of Francis Baille, who might also be entitled to status as an heir. And according to the lawyers I interviewed about the case (experts unconnected to Maloof, Jaussaud or Baille), the rights to some of Maier's work may hinge on a rental agreement she signed for a storage unit — a storage unit on which she later defaulted. -Continue Reading