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Could Annie Leibovitz Lose the Rights to Her Work?

Famed magazine photog faces steep consequences over unpaid $24 million loan.


Jason Fell By Jason Fell
08/19/2009 -09:54 AM






Over the last several months, FOLIO: has reported its fair share of difficult stories. Magazine have folded. Thousands of people have been laid off. Publishing companies have filed for bankruptcy.

Here’s another tough one.

Renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz, whose iconic work has appeared in magazines like Vogue and Rolling Stone over her four decade-long career, is nearing the darkest deadline of her life: Repay $24 million in loans by September 8 or face losing her homes —and perhaps the rights to her entire life’s work.

Leibovitz (pictured), according to a lengthy profile of her in New York magazine, borrowed the money from New York City-based bankers Art Capital Group last year to help with outstanding debts she racked up. The group has since filed legal proceedings against the famed photographer claiming that she never intended to pay them back.

The New York piece, written by Andrew Goldman, said the Art Capital loans consolidated all of Leibovitz’s debts, including her mortgages. While Goldman couldn’t track down the interest rate, the term of the loan was for one year.

That means Leibovitz has to come up with $24 million, plus interest, by this September. Under the terms of the agreement, says a person familiar with the loan, Art Capital could be entitled to up to 22.5 percent of all the proceeds from the sale of any of Leibovitz’s work—even for two years after she’s paid off the loan. And that percentage could increase to close to 50 percent if she were to default. Potentially, Art Capital may be entitled to her homes and even her catalogue of past and future copyrights.

Goldman Sachs, which helped finance the loan, told New York that it is not involved in the dispute between Leibovitz and Art Capital but has proposed to terminate the loan agreement to negotiate directly with Leibovitz on how to resolve the repayment.

The New York piece offers an in-depth look at Leibovitz and the financial roller coaster she’s ridden the last few decades. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about someone of Leibovitz’s stature—who has access to financial advisors—backed into a corner over massive debt. In this case, however, I can’t imagine the prospect of a bank potentially owning the rights to Leibovitz’s entire, mind-blowing portfolio.

Take the houses. Leave the rights to her work.

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