Last year, Norsigian sold 65 different prints online that he claimed were made from original Ansel Adams glass plates he purchased at a garage sale 10 years ago. The late photographer’s Trust claimed that the plates were not genuine and launched trade mark infringement proceedings against Norsigian in August 2010. According to the Bay Citizen, the Trust asserted “trade mark infringement, trade mark dilution, false advertising and false endorsement, among other charges.”
Even after the legal action commenced, Norsigian continued to sell the prints for between $1,500 and $7,500 under the Ansel Adams name.
As part of their claim, the Adams Trust reportedly claimed that even if the prints are genuine, Norsigian was still unable to sell the prints using Adams’ name. The Trust’s lawyer reportedly said that "[the images] are not made by Ansel Adams, even if they were, they are negatives and [Norsigian] would not have the right to use [Adams'] name on any of the prints."
Perhaps a better argument would have been that making prints from the negative without owning the copyright would constitute copyright infringement – however, this would involve accepting that the prints are genuine Adams, a position that the Trust was surprisingly reluctant to accept.
The potential copyright infringement claim is particularly interesting considering that there is currently only one Adams mark on the USPTO register for ANSEL ADAMS ANSEL ADAMS GALLERY. Two marks for ANSEL ADAMS were filed on 23 August 2010 (after the suit was reportedly filed). The Trust reportedly claimed that they expected something like these allegedly fake Adams images to arise but only took registration action when it actually did.
In order to spice up the legal shenanigans, or possibly provide a bargaining chip toward negotiation, in December, Norsigian launched defamation proceedings against the Trust claiming that the “trust slandered him and engaged in a civil conspiracy that has hurt his efforts.” According to the Bay Citizen, Norsigian’s case arose from comments made by Bill Turnage, the Adams Trust’s managing trustee, who told CNN that the efforts made to authenticate the plates was the work of “a bunch of crooks” and likened it to Goebbels’ “Big Lie” technique.
Thankfully, the issue has now been amicably resolved. According to a joint statement, “Norsigian … may continue to sell negatives, prints, posters and other merchandise associated with negatives, subject to a disclaimer approved by The Trust, and provided they do so in a manner consistent with state and federal law.” Details about the settlement are confidential, however, no money appears to have exchanged hands. The legal costs of each side's litigation were absorbed by the individual parties.
Presumably Norsigian has a certain amount of time to comply with the settlement agreement – the website still contains several references to Ansel Adams, is titled the “lost negatives” and contains no obvious disclaimer.