Tentative deal in legal fight over Chicago nanny's photos

AP News
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Posted: May 03, 2016 6:49 PM
Tentative deal in legal fight over Chicago nanny's photos

CHICAGO (AP) — A legal tussle over copyrights to photos from the 1950s onward shot by a Chicago nanny profiled in an Oscar-nominated documentary appeared close to a resolution Tuesday — though a dispute about who is Vivian Maier's rightful heir remains unresolved.

John Maloof, who is credited with discovering the photos and who co-directed "Finding Vivian Maier," told The Associated Press he and the Cook County's public administrator's office have reached a tentative agreement after a year of negotiations. The public administrator's office represents Maier's estate by default, since she had no obvious heirs and no will.

Resolving the copyright issue, Maloof said, will clear obstacles to exhibiting and selling the images more widely. One plan he had to put on hold was an exhibit not only of Maier's pictures, but of her cameras, home movies and other artifacts.

"We should be able to move forward on a lot of things," said Maloof, who owns the vast majority of Maier's photographs, many of which are on still-undeveloped rolls.

Maloof, a former Chicago real estate agent, bought a box full of Maier's negatives at auction for $400 from a repossessed storage locker in 2007. He traced her whereabouts in Chicago just days after the enigmatic Maier died penniless in 2009 at age 83.

The more than 150,000 photographs Maier took in her spare time in Chicago and New York became a sensation, as her intimate and often-gritty photography focused on everyday people, rich and poor, captured the flavor of a bygone era.

Maloof and the lawyer in the public administrator's office who negotiated the agreement, Leah Jakubowski, declined to discuss the terms of the deal. It is still subject to a probate judge's approval, and a hearing is set for May 10.

While the deal would largely resolve copyright issues, it wouldn't address which of at least two distant Maier relatives is the proper heir. Whoever is deemed to be so would replace the county as the representative for Maier's estate, though terms of the copyright deal would be fixed, said David Deal, who represents one would-be heir.

Legal experts say Illinois law is fairly straightforward when there is no will: The closest living relative is the heir. Deal says his client, a retired bureaucrat in France, Francis Baille, is Maier's closest relative. Maloof said it's another relative, Sylvain Jaussaud. Both have been described as first cousins once removed.

Deal hadn't seen the agreement between Maloof and Cook County, but he says such agreements typically include profit-sharing between an estate and the owner of the photographs. The profits set aside for the estate would eventually go to the person who is declared the heir. Determining who that is, said Deal, could still take months or years.