Marilyn Monroe negatives to be auctioned with copyright
Inclusion of copyright could add “exponential value” to Milton Greene's photographic archive
By Laura Gilbert. Web only
Published online: 17 July 2013
A photographic archive of 75,000 negatives and transparencies by the fashion and celebrity photographer Milton Greene, including around 3,700 unpublished images of Marilyn Monroe, is due to be sold at auction—all with copyright.
“The fact that the copyright is being sold is unheard of,” says Joe Maddalena, the head of the Los Angeles auction house Profiles in History, which is selling the archive on 27 July.
Greene is best known for his photographs of Monroe. The actress and photographer were close friends, and Monroe lived in the Greene household for a year before her marriage to the playwright Arthur Miller in 1956. “Because of his access to her, he was able to photograph her in a way no one else could,” Maddalena says. “Ninety-nine percent [of the images for sale] are unpublished.”
The inclusion of the copyright is a potential boon for any buyer, who could create a new market by printing and selling limited edition prints. By acquiring the copyright, the owner would also be able to license the images for a fee, and control anyone else’s use of them. David Wolf, a New York-based lawyer who specialises in intellectual property says the copyright could be valuable, “depending on the value of the print”. Maddalena says a negative from Greene's archive sold without copyright “could be worth a few thousand [dollars], but with the copyright, the value increases by an exponential number”.
The archive followed an unusual path to the market. In the 1970s, Greene took out a loan using his archive as collateral. “Somehow, some way, a Polish government entity became the debt holder,” Maddalena says. In the 2000s, it demanded repayment, and when the debt wasn’t paid it took ownership of the archive. In 2005 the archive was sold to an anonymous US collector, who contacted Maddalena at the end of last year to arrange the sale.
The auction is divided into 268 lots, and also features images of other celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant, Barbra Streisand and the porn star Linda Lovelace.
In November, 238 photos taken by Greene, including shots of Monroe, were auctioned in Poland for a total of around $750,000, according to the Associated Press. Maddalena believes the Monroe images being sold in Los Angeles could bring $1m, but “we couldn’t determine a market value, because there are no comparables. The world will decide.”
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