Apr 15, 2016

Photographer Brings Copyright Claim Against Mapplethorpe Estate

Robert Mapplethorpe, the famous and controversial photographer, is best known for the often controversial subject nature of his photographs including male and female nudes and portrayals of the BDSM subculture in 1970's New York City. Robert Mapplethorpe died of AIDS in 1989 but prior to his death he established the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to protect his work and promote causes close to his heart. Since his death the Foundation has continued to promote his work and it also decides which galleries display his work.

James Miller, a professional artist and photographer, who uses the professional name Bobby Miller has this month filed an action for copyright infringement against the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation and various other parties, including the Sean Kelly Gallery and the Guggenheim Foundation. Miller has published several books of his photographs and his work has been exhibited in the United States of America. He is also a makeup artist who worked with Robert Mapplethorpe in the 1970's.

Miller is now claiming that he is the owner of the copyright in 4 photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe dressed in women's clothing from 1979, the only 4 such photographs that were ever taken. Miller claims that the composition of the photographs, including the choice of clothing, makeup and lighting were all arranged by him and that he took the actual photograph. Miller's case is that Robert Mapplethorpe then claimed the works as his own and displayed them accordingly.

Miller is now suing for a declaration that he is the author of the photographs and so the owner of the copyright in them. Miller is suing the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation for $25 million dollar damages and is also suing the other parties to the dispute for millions of dollars on the basis that he told the other parties he owned the copyright to the photographs but they would not stop displaying them.

If Miller can prove his allegations then he will be the author of the photographs on the basis that his skill and labour went into styling the photographs and adjusting the lighting. The question is why he has left it so long to bring this action. It will be interesting to see how this develops and whether Miller has brought the action now because he now feels he has acquired the evidence to prove the allegations.

in: Copyright, News

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