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And That's Terrible

To Kill a Mockingbird Writer Harper Lee In Legal Dispute With Agent Over Possible Stolen Rights


Pulitzer Prize-winning author Harper Lee dropped the proverbial mic after To Kill a Mockingbird and has been living a fruitful life ever since. However, a recent bump in the road has brought her name back into the news. She’s suing her agent over the rights to her famous work, rights she says were stolen using trickery.

Lee filed the lawsuit in Manhattan federal court yesterday. According to Reuters, the suit names “Samuel Pinkus, the son-in-law of Lee’s long-time agent, Eugene Winick, who had represented her for more than 40 years. When Winick became ill in 2002, Pinkus diverted several of Winick’s clients to his own company, the lawsuit said.”

The suit says Pinkus “duped” Lee seven years ago into signing over the rights without payment. It also states that Lee has trouble hearing and seeing but has no memory of signing over anything. All these things are factors Lee and her lawyer believe Pinkus took advantage of to secure the rights.

Reuters writes, “Pinkus engineered the transfer of Lee’s rights to secure himself ‘irrevocable’ interest in the income derived from her book and to avoid paying legal obligations he owed to his father-in-law’s company for royalties that Pinkus allegedly misappropriated, the lawsuit said.”

Published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird celebrated a big milestone just a few years ago, which also factors in says Reuters. “Pinkus in recent years has not provided royalty statements to explain money earned by the book, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit also alleged Pinkus failed to respond to offers by publisher HarperCollins to discuss licensing e-book rights and did not respond to the publisher’s request for assistance related to the 50th anniversary of the publishing of To Kill A Mockingbird.”

Neither Pinkus or Lee’s attorney had made statements as of Reuter’s publishing.

(via Guardian, image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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  • http://twitter.com/ruby Ruby Sinreich

    First, let me say that I *love* To Kill a Mockingbird, it partially made me the activist that I am today and I would have named my child Scout of she was a girl. Second, I hope Lee gets everything that’s coming to her.

    But… do you think she’s cutting her hair like Scout on purpose? And if so, WTF?

  • Anonymous

    Since Scout drew heavily from Lee’s childhood… I’d say yeah, probably.

  • Ophelia Millais

    She wrote one book and has lived off the royalties for 50 years. For someone whose true calling was supposed to be writing, she was quite content to kick back and enjoy the free ride, once she got it, and never work nor write nor contribute anything to society again. So much for the argument that copyright encourages creativity and that without it, culture would die, eh? And now someone has hijacked her lifelong gravy train and she’s upset. She doesn’t deserve to be taken advantage of, and I hope she gets the matter settled, but this book should’ve entered the public domain decades ago.

  • http://www.thenerdybird.com/ Jill Pantozzi

    Yes, she wrote a book. She did the work. She deserves the royalties from it and doesn’t owe society anything further. What a horrible attitude to have toward a creative individual because of their success.

  • http://www.silverpixiefly.com/ Silverpixiefly

    Exactly. If she is still getting royalties, then that means something/someone is using the book in a way that she still gets paid. If she is making enough to kick back 50 years later, then obviously enough people feel like her work is worth it. Otherwise it would have fallen into obscurity.

  • Anonymous

    Someone’s gotta say this… but there needs to be a legal dispute over who she hired as her barber :

  • Anonymous

    This sentiment is unseemly bordering on completely tasteless. I would suggest you read – and then reread – Jill’s response to it. Who are you to determine what anyone else’s calling is, what their debt to society is, and what Lee’s motivations were for not following it up with another story? And your belief that she got a “free ride” is completely lacking in understanding of what it takes to write a novel – and a “great American novel” at that. It takes years of life experience, extreme talent, patience, determination, and courage to produce work like that. She is more than deserving of a “free ride” as you put it – that’s how important her book was.

  • http://twitter.com/rockinlibrarian Amy W

    …I honestly thought she died years ago. Am I the only one who did a double-take at the headline? “Wait, don’t you mean ESTATE?”

  • Mina

    Nope! But she’s sort of a recluse. She doesn’t care for the limelight.

  • Mina

    Yikes! That sounds like a tough legal case to prove. I hope she gets her royalties back though. Surely they’ll realize she wouldn’t have signed over all the rights to some random agent man on purpose.

  • Anonymous

    Your definition of a free ride is my definition of a well deserved and duly earned reward for contributing a priceless work to society. You say tomato, I say shut up.

  • Anonymous

    Geez, if you want to get upset with someone, get upset with Christopher Tolkien. He’s been leaching off of his father’s work his whole life.

  • Anonymous

    no, its not supposed to fall into the public domain until 2018 at the very earliest. also, you are awful…would you have the same opinion if YOU wrote a beloved novel?