One of the biggest acts in the history of Motown was the Temptations, who 46 years ago famously sang:
“Ball of confusion, Oh yeah, that’s what the world is today, Hey hey!”
They were right on then and they’re right now.
When Prince died without having a will people were truly shocked. That a man with a net worth upwards of 300 million dollars (and counting) would not have had a will drawn up to distribute his assets and provide for the distribution of future revenues, was just about not believable. When a former housekeeper and baby sitter named Vivian Maier died in 2009, nobody noticed. She did not leave a spouse, children nor any property of consequence – or so it seemed.
After unknown Chicagoan Vivian Maier passed, and now her name is known to all, her trove of photos of ordinary people was “discovered”. It set forth a bizarre series of events culminating in about as confusing legal case as there has ever been, and now her name become known to all. A cogent retelling of her story and the quagmire it’s become today can be found in this article in the Toronto Star. We suggest you read it before continuing here.
A “ball of confusion”? Ya think! Could spending a few hundred dollars to have a will drawn have prevented it all? Oh yeah! Will many lawyers make loads of money while the “owners” of the images are stuck in neutral? But of course. No doubt Ms. Maier had no idea of the commercial value of her work during her lifetime and likely never considered it valuable since so many rolls of film were never processed.
Among all the pieces, there is just one aspect of this puzzle that is beyond dispute – a will could have permitted/directed the sale, exhibition, licensing or gifting of these images to anybody or any entity. The responsibility for the supervising such sales, licenses, preservation etc. could be given by Ms. Maier to whomever she believed was best suited for such tasks. Rather to people she never knew or had any connection. There would be no disputes as exists today. No headlines and all these lawyers would have to find billable hours elsewhere It’s yet another “ya never know’. In other words, ya never know what one or more of your images might be worth next year or a decade from now. Your “nothing today” might turn into historical gems like Ms. Maier’s. The fact that the government wants in on the heady money her images seem to be worth in the fine art world, assures that this case will drag on until the Cubs win a World Series.
As we have urged, cajoled and written many times, every artist needs to have a will drawn which will provide for the distribution or sale of his/her work. Any lawyer with even a single digit IQ will tell you that “No will means chaos on the horizon”. The Temptations were far more articulate.