Ansel Adams Trust Sues Over ‘Lost Negatives’

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust claims a Fresno man is selling prints and posters from 65 negatives that were not taken by Ansel Adams. The Trust claims Rick Norsigian is unjustly profiting from what he calls the “Ansel Adams Lost Negatives,” which he bought at a garage sale 10 years ago.

     The Trust claims Norsigian and co-defendant PRS Media are violating and diluting Ansel Adams’ trademark, competing unfairly, and falsely advertising the 65 glass photographic negatives.
     “Numerous photography experts and others who are highly knowledgeable about Mr. Adams and his work, including those who spent years working with Mr. Adams, have also voiced serious doubt that Mr. Adams created these negatives,” according to the federal complaint. It describes Norsigian’s claims as “dubious, at best.”
     The trust attributes the negatives to Earl Brooks, whose niece came forward after seeing a TV piece on Norsigian, “and explained that one of her uncle’s photographs are strikingly similar to images made from negatives held by Norsigian.”
     Nonetheless, the Trust says, Norsigian’s attorney Arnold Peter held a press conference in July promoting what he called “an expert report” which he claimed authenticated the negatives as Adams’s, and estimated their value at $200 million. Peter is a partner in Peter, Rubin & Simon LLP and an officer in PRS Media, according to the complaint.
“Mr. Peter has been a tireless promoter for Norsigian,” helped develop Norsigian’s website, and claims to own the content on it, according to the complaint.
     Adams was a native San Franciscan, whose career began in the 1920s and lasted until his death in 1984, during which he produced famous landscape photographs of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada. He was also known for “Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese Americans,” a photo essay on the Japanese-American internment during World War II.
     Adams donated more than 2,000 fine prints and 44,000 negatives to the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, which he co-founded in 1975. He was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2007.
     The Trust demands an injunction against Norsigian PRS, preventing them from selling the prints and using Adams’s name, plus damages and restitution for false advertising, trademark infringement and violation of the right of publicity. It is represented by Bob Steinberg with Latham and Watkins of Los Angeles.

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