New Details About Charles Maier Surface As Search For Vivian Maier Heir Narrows

John Maloof Accepts Deal With Vivian Maier Estate Cook County

Vivian Maier’s long lost brother, Charles Maier, may be the last key to finding a living heir to the Vivian Maier estate. And only one day after Ann Marks released evidence of Charles Maier’s life, death and military records, another historian has come forward with knowledge of Charles’ last days and his final resting place in the cemetary of a New Jersey mental hospital. Hit the jump for more info.

Charles Maier And The Search For Vivian Maier’s Heir

Charles Maier And The Search For Vivian Maier Heir
Photo © Vivian Maier

As we recently reported, Ann Marks had discovered evidence which she believe pointed to Vivian Maier’s brother, Charles Maier’s birth and death records in addition to his military service. This information is considered critical as the search for a possible living heir to the Vivian Maier estate continues.

But today sees new information from author Pamela Bannos who had long since discovered that Charles Maier (born Karl Maier) is in fact buried in the Ancora Psychiatric Hospital Cemetery. According to, Bannos has been working on her own Vivian Maier biography and had decided to release the information about Charles Maier’s final resting spot in her book. But when Ann Marks’ evidence was released yesterday, she decided to come forward and set the record straight.

The fact that Charles Maier had spent several years at the institution before his death almost guarantees that records about Charles are available and it’s hoped these records would include information about a possible spouse or children. Any of which would be the rightful heir to the Vivian Maier estate.

Why Any Of This Matters

Tentative Deal To End Vivian Maier Copyright Battle
Photo © Vivian Maier

At stake is the ownership of the copyright to every image Vivian Maier ever took. And according to U.S. law this is seperate from property ownership of the negatives themselves. There are several owners of the vast majority of Vivian Maier’s negatives and the two largest collections (Maloof and Goldstein) had worked together to track down a distant cousin in France and secured the rights to publish Vivian’s work. If Charles’ heir is found then this person would be the rigthful owner of that copyright under U.S. law, trumping Maloof’s and Goldstein’s previous discovery.

Basically, the copyright owners and the negative owners become dependant on each other. Neither can act without the other and a collaboration would be required to continue producing Vivian Maier’s work. If no heir is found, Cook County is asserting that the copyright would default to them and negative owners like John Maloof would have to wage an extended court battle to validate his own copyright claim.

StreetShootr’s Take

This is a double edge sword. On the one hand I understand that much of the brand of Vivian Maier has been created by the people who found and marketed her negatives. But this doesn’t invalidate the claims of legitimate copyright holders. If a living heir can be found then that’s the end of the story. Deals will be made and money will be transferred and the Vivian Maier machine will keep on churning out excellent prints and books as long as there is demand.

But the danger comes if a bureaucratic regime like Cook County were to assume control of the copyrights. In all fairness they are unlikely to have any kind of sensitivity to the work or how it should be preserved and would only be looking at it for its dollar value. With something as fragile as Vivian Maier’s legacy this might not be the best end for the work.

Maloof and Goldstein did extensive genealogical research to find who they believe to be the last living heir of Vivian Maier. This being said they were unable to locate Charles Maier in that process so one has to wonder how extensive that search was now that he’s been located. Of course nothing is solved at this point – we only have the report of where he is buried without any insight to his family legacy.

It’s still entirely possible that Charles Maier left this earth without an heir of his own. The future of the Vivian Maier estate hangs on that simple variable and we’re going to have to let this one play out.

What’s your take on the discovery of Charles Maier’s final resting place? And important and final piece to the puzzle of Vivian Maier’s life? Post your ideas in the comments below and keep the conversation going!

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