Harper Lee, the author of To Kill A Mockingbird, is suing a literary agent who she says tricked her into handing over the copyright on her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
Lee says Samuel Pinkus took advantage of her failing hearing and eyesight to get the copyright for the novel. Lee was residing in an assisted-living facility after suffering a stroke at the time the document transferring the rights was signed.
The 87-year-old, who lives in Monroeville, Alabama, is alleging that when her long-time literary agent Eugene Winick became ill in 2002, Pinkus, his son-in-law, switched Winick’s clients to his own company. Lee is alleging that Pinkus transferred the rights to secure “irrevocable” interest in the revenue earned from the book. Pinkus also wanted to avoid paying any legal obligations he owed to Winick’s company for royalties.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Manhattan federal court, also alleges that Pinkus failed to respond to offers for e-book rights, as well as a request for assistance related to the book’s 50th anniversary in 2010.
The copyright to the novel was reassigned to Harper Lee last year after she took legal action, and after Pinkus was discharged as her agent. He was still receiving royalties from the novel as of this year, the complaint said.
“Pinkus knew that Harper Lee was an elderly woman with physical infirmities that made it difficult for her to read and see,” said Gloria Phares, Lee’s lawyer. “Harper Lee had no idea she had assigned her copyright” to Pinkus.
Also named in the suit is Leigh Ann Winick, Pinkus’ wife and president of Keystone Literary LLC, which is also a defendant. Gerald Posner, a New York lawyer and investigative reporter who incorporated one of Pinkus’ businesses is also named as a defendant.
To Kill A Mockingbird was adapted into a film in 1962. Starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, who defends a black man named Tom Robinson, much to the dismay of the town’s residents. Robinson is accused of raping a young white woman named Mayella Ewell. The film also starred Mary Badham as Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, Atticus’ daughter, and Phillip Alford as her brother, Jem. Robert Duvall also starred as Arthur “Boo” Radley, a mysterious man who has not been seen in town for many years.
To Kill A Mockingbird is Harper Lee’s only published novel. However, Lee did assist her close friend, Truman Capote, in researching his novel In Cold Blood. She is very rarely seen in public and declines almost all interview requests.