Harper Lee sues agent. Who owns 'To Kill a Mockingbird' copyright?

Harper Lee sues: Calling Atticus Finch! Author Harper Lee is suing her agent over the copyright to her classic novel, 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' She alleges she was tricked into signing away rights to the book, first published in 1960.

Courtesy of Universal Picture/Photofest/PBS
Actor Gregory Peck and 'To Kill a Mockingbird' author Harper Lee at the premiere of the movie in 1962. Ms. Lee is now suing her agent.

The author who created Atticus Finch could use a good attorney. So could her literary agent, whom Ms. Lee is now suing over copyright to her novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

It sounds strange that such an issue would come up 53 years after the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which features Mr. Finch as lawyer who fights for racial justice, was published.

But here’s what the 87-year-old author is alleging in a case filed Friday in a federal court in Manhattan. The lawsuit argues that the son-in-law of her long-time literary agent 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.

"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.

The former agent's son-in-law didn't immediately return a call seeking comment, the Associated Press reports.

The son-in-law, Samuel Pinkus, became involved with Lee after Eugene Winick – who had represented her as a literary agent since the book was published in 1960 – became ill about a decade ago.

The novel is Lee’s only book, but it has become a classic of modern American fiction, and its story a widely influential tale of moral courage and of race relations in the American South. Lee lives in Monroeville, Ala.

The film version of the story won three Academy Awards, including Best Actor (for Gregory Peck, playing Atticus Finch) and Best Adapted Screenplay (for Horton Foote).

"To Kill A Mockingbird" tells the story of two children growing up in a small Southern town. The book addresses racial injustice, as the children's father is selected to defend a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman. The man is convicted despite his innocence.

Material from wire services was used in this story.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.