Mere weeks after Harper Lee settled a lawsuit in which she alleged she was “duped” into signing over her “To Kill a Mockingbird” copyright, the 87-year-old writer is filing another lawsuit.
This time it’s against her hometown.
Lee filed suit against the Monroe County Heritage Museum on Oct. 10 in Monroeville, Ala., for allegedly exploiting her trademark and personality rights, according to news reports.
Her complaint states: “The town’s desire to capitalize upon the fame of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird ‘ is unmistakable: Monroeville’s town logo features an image of a mockingbird and the cupola of the Old County Courthouse, which was the setting for the dramatic trial in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'."
It continues by targeting the museum: “Its actual work does not touch upon history. Rather, its primary mission is to trade upon the fictional story, settings and characters that Harper Lee created in 'To Kill a Mockingbird', and Harper Lee's own renown as one of the nation's most celebrated authors."
The museum sells aprons, clothing, soaps, magnets, and glassware, among other merchandise, and reportedly generated more than $500,000 in revenue in 2011.
The museum has since responded – strongly – to Lee’s suit.
“Every single statement in the lawsuit is either false, meritless, or both,” Matthew I. Goforth, an attorney for the museum, told ABC News. “It is sad that Harper Lee's greedy handlers have seen fit to attack the non-profit museum in her hometown that has been honoring her legacy and the town's rich history associated with that legacy for over 20 years. Unfortunately for Harper Lee, those handlers are doing nothing but squandering her money with this lawsuit. The museum is squarely within its rights to carry out its mission as it always has.”
“To Kill a Mockingbird” has sold more than 30 million copies and has been translated into more than 25 languages. It is on required reading lists in most US high schools and is considered an American classic. Lee received the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for the book.
As the Hollywood Reporter writes, “It’s not often that a celebrity picks a legal war over a hometown institution that aims to profit on the back of a local icon.”
Is this is a case of an 87-year-old author being exploited for profit or an overzealously litigious favorite American author turning on her hometown?
Either way, it’s a sad story.