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Ansel Adams Trust Settles Dispute Over Trove of Glass Negatives

An out-of-court settlement was reached this week between the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust and Rick Norsigian, a California school maintenance worker.

NEW YORK—An out-of-court settlement was reached this week between the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust and Rick Norsigian, a California school maintenance worker. Under the agreement’s terms, images made from a group of 65 negatives found by Norsigian at a garage sale—with prices ranging from $45 for a poster to $7,500 for a print—cannot be marketed with any explicit use of the Adams name. They will remain available online, however, accompanied by a disclaimer approved by the Adams Trust.

The claim made by Norsigian and his legal representative, PRS Media Partners (PRS), that the negatives were created by renowned photographer Ansel Adams was rejected by the Trust, which controls the use of the photographer’s name and licenses his images, as well as by the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, which Adams (1902–84) helped to found in 1975 and to which he donated the bulk of his negatives, prints and archival material.

Last August the Trust filed a trademark-infringement lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in San Francisco, aiming to stop Norsigian and PRS from advertising, marketing and selling the prints as images by Adams. In December Norsigian and PRS countersued, charging the Trust with restraint of trade, and earlier this month they expanded the targets of their suit to include the University of Arizona. They accused William Turnage, the Trust’s managing director, of slander and defamation after Turnage labeled Norsigian and his team “crooks” and “con men.” In the settlement, both sides agreed to absorb their own legal costs.

Throughout the process, the Center and the Trust refused to acknowledge the authenticity of the negatives, which Norsigian had purchased in 2000 and asserted were Adams’s “lost negatives.” The potential value of the photographs they hoped to create and attribute to the famous artist would be $200 million, Norsigian had claimed.

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