'To Kill A Mockingbird' Author, Again: Give Me My License Fee

Dan Harkins

Harper Lee, now 88, lives today in a nursing home in Monroeville, Alabama, right in the heart of the setting for her 1960 masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird. So, she's perfectly perched to spot when somebody's not ponying up the required license fee for using Mockingbird to make some money.

Late this week, Lee reinstated a federal lawsuit she brought last year (then dropped in February) against a local historical society using the name of Lee's only book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird, on merchandise that has reportedly earned the Monroeville-based Monroe County Heritage Museum somewhere in the neighborhood of $500,000 in just 2011 alone.

Monroe County and Monroeville were where Lee centered Mockingbird's story about how racism was still deeply rooted in the South. Lee's attorney told Reuters that she'd reinstated the suit after the museum failed to meet its settlement promises, even seeking to add stipulations to the settlement after a judge had set it in stone.

Harper Lee Wants The Money

Surely, Lee doesn't need the money. Does she? After all, she just approved the release of Mockingbird to digital sales. She was able to finally do that because earlier last year she won the copyright for Mockingbird.

Until last year, she hadn't noticed that Samuel Pinkus, the son-in-law of her former literary agent, had finagled the fine print to corner the trademark royalties.

"Pinkus knew that Harper Lee was an elderly woman with physical infirmities that made it difficult for her to read and see," Lee's attorney, Gloria Phares, said. "Harper Lee had no idea she had assigned her copyright" away.

Sales and academic usage seem vibrant in many nations, though Great Britain is scaling back its official adoration of To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Guardian just reported that Lee's novel was being removed from its secondary school curriculum guides, as well as other new English literature classics such as Arthur Miller's play The Crucible and John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. In their place will be more offerings by classic British authors such as Jane Austen, Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.

"Many teenagers will think that being made to read Dickens aged 16 is just tedious," said Kings College English professor Bethan Marshall. "This will just grind children down."

But the Department of Education stressed how the new standard "doesn't ban any authors, books or genres. It does ensure pupils will learn about a wide range of literature, including at least one Shakespeare play, a 19th-century novel written anywhere and post-1914 fiction or drama written in the British Isles."

So, technically, Lee's Mockingbird could still find a place into quite a few backpacks in the near future.

[Image courtesy of Librarial Pursuits and Universal Pictures]