Harper Lee sues for the copyright of To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book To Kill a Mockingbird, has sued a literary agent saying he took advantage of her declining health to trick her into assigning him the copyright on the book.
The lawsuit was filed on Friday in a federal court in Manhattan and alleges that in 2007, Lee’s literary agent, Samuel Pinkus, “engaged in a scheme to dupe” the then 80-year-old Lee when he visited her in an assisted-living facility where she signed a document assigning her copyright to his company.
Lee was living in the assisted-living facility as she had suffered a stroke and her eyesight and hearing were failing.
Gloria Phares, Lee’s lawyer, said: “Pinkus knew that Harper Lee was an elderly woman with physical infirmities that made it difficult for her to read and see,” and added that “Harper Lee had no idea she had assigned her copyright” to the company owned by Pinkus.
Pinkus is the son-in-law of Eugene Winnick who had been Lee’s agent for 40 years. It is alleged that Pinkus transferred a number of Winnick’s clients over to his company when his father-in-law became ill in 2002.
In the complaint, it is alleged that Pinkus transferred rights to himself to secure an “irrevocable” interest in the income from Lee’s book.
The literary agent also sought to avoid paying legal obligations for royalties he owed to his father-in-law’s company.
In addition, it is alleged that Pinkus failed to respond to offers made by the publisher HarperCollins regarding the licensing of e-book rights and a request they made for assistance related to the book’s 50th anniversary.
The lawsuit asks the court to assign any rights in the book owned by Pinkus to Lee and that any commission he took from 2007 onwards be returned to the author.
Pinkus did not immediately respond to a request for comment made by Reuters news agency.
To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960, is the only novel published by Lee and addresses issues including racial injustice, telling the story of two children from a small town in Alabama whose lawyer father defends a black man accused of raping a white woman, a crime he is innocent of but for which he is convicted.