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MAY
4
12 MOS

'To Kill a Mockingbird' Author Sues Agent For Allegedly Stealing Book's Copyright

Harper Lee's lawsuit contends her agent deceived her into handing over the rights--and profits--to the classic 1960 story of racial injustice.

To Kill a Mockingbird Gregory Peck Court Room - H 2012
Courtesy of Everett Collection

Harper Lee, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird filed a lawsuit Friday to re-secure the copyright to it.

To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960, tells the story of Scout Finch, a young girl in small-town Alabama, whose father Atticus Finch agrees to defend an African-American man accused of rape. 
 
The book won the Pulitzer for fiction, is widely assigned in schools and is considered a classic novel of Southern race relations and injustice.
 
The 1962 film version won three Academy Awards, including a best actor trophy for Gregory Peck as lead character Atticus Finch. 
 
It is the only novel Lee ever wrote. Her friend Truman Capote played an instrumental role in getting it published. 
 
Since publication Lee has kept a low-profile, accepting honorary degrees and awards but always declining to speak. 
 
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan seeks unspecified damages from the son-in-law of Lee's former literary agent and companies he allegedly created.

The lawsuit alleges the son-in-law, Samuel Pinkus, failed to properly protect the copyright of the book after his father-in-law, Eugene Winick — who had represented Lee as a literary agent since the book was published in 1960 through the firm McIntosh and Otis — became ill a decade ago.

The 87-year-old author alleges Pinkus took advantage of her declining hearing and eyesight seven years ago to get her to assign the book's copyright to him and a company he controlled.
 
Lee, who lives in Monroeville, Ala., has taken legal action to get the copyright reassigned but alleges Pinkus still received commissions.
 
"The transfer of ownership of an author's copyright to her agent is incompatible with her agent's duty of loyalty; it is a gross example of self-dealing," the lawsuit says.

Lee is also asking that all commissions paid to Pinkus since 2007 be returned to her. 
 
The suit also alleges that Pinkus has not provided timely royalty statements and failed to follow through on publisher interest in publishing ebook and fiftieth anniversary editions of the classic book. 
 
The former agent's son-in-law didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.