Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird (the only book she’s written), has an outstanding lawsuit. The lawsuit charges that in 2007 her agent, Samuel Pinkus, duped the 80-year-old Lee into assigning him the copyright to To Kill a Mockingbird and took away the royalties.
In “To Steal a Mockingbird?” Mark Seal unveils the details of the lawsuit for Vanity Fair:
Filed in New York District Court, the suit names Pinkus, his wife, former TV-news writer Leigh Ann Winick, and Gerald Posner, a Miami-based attorney and investigative journalist with a questionable reputation, as defendants. It claims that Pinkus “engaged in a scheme to dupe Harper Lee, then 80-years-old with declining hearing and eye sight, into assigning her valuable TKAM [To Kill a Mockingbird] copyright to [Pinkus’s company] for no consideration,” and then created shell companies and bank accounts to which the book’s royalties were funneled. (The defendants are not accused of stealing her royalties.)
As the emerging scandal rocked the publishing world, I flew to Monroeville and stood in its former county courthouse, now a museum devoted to the town’s two literary sensations, Harper Lee and Truman Capote, who were childhood neighbors and lifelong friends. Upstairs in the museum is the courtroom where Lee’s father, Amasa Coleman “A. C.” Lee, tried his cases, and where Harper, as a child, and the character Scout in her novel, watched adoringly from the balcony. Lee thinly disguised Monroeville in the book as Maycomb, “a tired old town…. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with.” She gave her father the name Atticus Finch.
This is a huge lawsuit because To Kill a Mockingbird, 53 years after first publication, still sells some 750,000 copies a year, according to HarperCollins, the publisher. In one typical six-month period alone, ending December 2009, Harper Lee earned $1,688,064.68 in royalties. I read the novel in 9th grade (but never re-read it), and it’s still one of my favorite all-time books.