Update: Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Lawsuit

Here’s an update on a post we told you about recently, courtesy of Harper Leethe LA Times’ Carolyn Kellogg:

Who would have predicted that, in her late 80s, Harper Lee would have to file suit to get the control of “To Kill a Mockingbird” returned to her?

According to a lawsuit filed in May, Lee, in failing health, had been ‘duped’ into assigning the copyright of her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to her literary agent, a lawyer.

That’s no small thing: A half century after its publication, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ still sells more than 750,000 copies a year. In one typical six-month period in 2009, its royalties amounted to more than $1.6 million.

Kellogg goes on to explain that Lee’s 2007 stroke left her incapacitated, which led to her signing over her writes to her novel.

Lee ‘didn’t remember things, and would sign almost anything anybody put in front of her,’ one friend tells Mark Seal, whose article about the case, ‘To Steal a Mockingbird?,’ appears in the August issue of Vanity Fair.

Seal explains how Lee wound up with a literary agent who, according to the suit, took advantage of her. Lee’s original agent was a trusted friend and important reader of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ when it was still a work in progress. After he passed away, longtime literary agency M&O took over her account — but when the principal agent there, getting older, suffered from ill health, his son-in-law, Samuel L. Pinkus, began acting in ways that may have been unscrupulous.

One of the things Pinkus did was start his own agency, Veritas Media, Inc., taking some accounts with him — including that of Harper Lee. A lawsuit regarding which agency owes who a percentage of royalties was settled in favor of M&O for a total of more than $700,000.

In Lee’s suit, Pinkus is accused of using various shell accounts to move royalties around. Various people see Pinkus in different ways — he was devoted to Lee, or he was a clown, or he was very savvy. Seal’s story makes it seem that moving the money may have had something to do with the M&O lawsuit.

Check out the full story here.

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