Ansel Adams Trust and Rick Norsigian settle suits over disputed 'lost negatives'
Ending a legal dispute that began last summer, Rick Norsigian has agreed he will stop using Ansel Adams’ name, likeness, or the “Ansel Adams” trademark as he continues to sell prints and posters of Yosemite National Park and coastal California that he has long contended document “lost negatives” shot by the great nature photographer.
Norsigian has spent the past decade trying to prove that the 65 old-fashioned glass-plate negatives he bought more than 10 years ago at a Fresno garage sale were taken by Adams in the 1920s and '30s and represent a previously missing chapter in the photographer’s oeuvre.
The settlement of federal lawsuits between Norsigian and his marketing partner, L.A.-based PRS Media Partners, on one side and the Marin County-based Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust on the other was announced by the parties in a statement Monday.
In the initial suit filed Aug. 23, the Adams Trust contended that Norsigian was violating its commercial trademark on the Ansel Adams name by using it to sell prints of the images for $1,500 and $7,500 via a “Lost Negatives” website that had gone up less than a month earlier. Norsigian and his partners had drawn national attention to their claim in late July with a Beverly Hills news conference in which they announced that the negatives had been appraised at $200 million or more -- the value, over the coming decades, of selling the prints and posters.
Norsigian and PRS had argued in a response to the initial lawsuit that their enterprise, and its use of Adams’ name and image, was part of an inquiry into “a matter of significant public concern,” and therefore protected by the First Amendment. The Adams Trust argued that Norsigian’s motive was profit, not free inquiry, and that he had no right to use the trademarked name commercially.
The joint statement about the settlement said that both sides continue to deny the other’s claims, but “have now agreed to resolve these disputes” in a confidential agreement, with each side paying its own legal and court costs. Norsigian may continue to sell his prints, but under the settlement he must use a disclaimer that has been approved by the Adams Trust.
On Tuesday, visitors to ricknorsigian.com who clicked on a “shop online” option were greeted by the statement, “merchandise sold through this website…is sold as is with no representation or warranty of authenticity as a work of Ansel Adams.” Norsigian is currently offering a “free poster” of one of his Yosemite shots through the website -- with a $12.50 charge for shipping and handling.
-- Mike Boehm
Photo: Rick Norsigian at July 2010 news conference announcing his disputed claim that he had authenticated his "lost negatives" as works by Ansel Adams. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times