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Authentic Ansel Adams?

When denying authenticity becomes defamatory

Rick Norsigian, of PRS Media Partners, thought he made a lucky find at a garage sale in California. For $45, Norsigian bought a number of glass plates which he now believes to be lost negatives of Ansel Adams. PRS began selling prints of the images, crediting Ansel Adams as the photographer. According to the NY Times, these prints have been selling for $1,500 and $7,500.

Unfortunately, Norsigian’s lucky find has brought more legal headache than financial gain. This fall, a lawsuit was filed against him and PRS in the California Northern District Court.

When Adams died in 1984, and all of his intellectual property rights became vested in the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. The Trust has denied that Norsigian’s garage-sale finds are authentic Adams, and has sued Norsigian and PRS for trademark infringement and violation of right of publicity.

Norisigan has gathered a team of “experts” to help prove that the glass plates come from Ansel Adams. Norsigian’s lawyer told CNN that the team “included two court-qualified handwriting experts, a retired FBI agent and a former Assistant United States Attorney.” The Center of Creative Photography in Arizona houses the Ansel Adams archives and is considered to be the primary source for authentication of Adams’ works. The Center has so far denied authenticity.

William Turnage, the managing trustee, called “Norsigian and those working with him ‘a bunch of crooks’ who ‘are pulling a big con job.'” Turnage went even further, perhaps too far, and compared Norsigian’s techniques to those used by Hitler.

In response, Norsigian has counter-claimed for slander (see the NY Times article).

The Trust has been criticized for exceeding its prerogatives, and Turnage has been criticized for “bullying” the new Director of the Center (see this article from Photocritic International). The Trust will try to prove that Turnage’s comments have not improperly influenced the Center’s authentication work.