Books Jacket Copy

Harper Lee sues literary agent over 'To Kill a Mockingbird' rights

Harper Lee, the 87-year-old author of "To Kill a Mockingbird," has filed suit against her literary agent over the rights to her classic novel. The suit alleges that the agent took advantage of Lee's age and infirmity when she assigned the copyright to him six years ago.

In 2007, Lee was living in an assisted living facility and had recently suffered a stroke when she signed over the rights of "To Kill a Mockingbird" to her agent, Samuel Pinkus, and his agency Keystone Literary.

“Pinkus knew that Harper Lee was an elderly woman with physical infirmities that made it difficult for her to read and see,” the complaint contends. “Harper Lee had no idea she had assigned her copyright” to Pinkus’ company, the suit states.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" was published in 1960; the story of a young girl learning about tolerance and racial injustice has sold more than 30 million copies. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was made into a film starring Gregory Peck, which was nominated for eight Oscars and won three. A 1999 survey by Library Journal deemed it the best novel of the century.

It's the only novel that Lee has ever published. Lee has eschewed the spotlight and lived quietly in Alabama for nearly half a century, declining most interview requests and rarely making public appearances.

Her longtime literary agency was McIntosh & Otis, whose principal was Eugene Winick. According to the complaint, Winick fell ill in 2002 and several of his clients were transferred to a company owned by Pinkus, his son-in-law. According to the complaint, McIntosh later won a judgment against Pinkus’ company over commissions he diverted from the firm, Bloomberg reports.

A letter that recently came up for auction seems to support the claim that Lee has had vision difficulties. In 2003, she wrote to a friend that she had cataracts and macular degeneration.

Last year, Lee successfully sought to have Pinkus discharged as her agent and to have "To Kill a Mockingbird" royalites reassigned to her. However, Lee's suit contends that he has continued to collect her royalties.


Reclusive Harper Lee speaks to reporter -- about ducks

Harper Lee letter for sale: 'Please don't put this on the internet'

F. Scott Fitzgerald's compensation for 'Great Gatsby' movie rights? $16,666

Carolyn Kellogg: Join me on Twitter, Facebook and Google+

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Literary T-shirts a go-go
    Literary T-shirts a go-go

    Some people wear their emotions -- like a love of books -- on their sleeves. And with literary T-shirts they can do that literally. Some feature books' covers, others text, and others pay tribute to beloved authors.

  • Thomas Pynchon's 'Inherent Vice' reported to begin filming
    Thomas Pynchon's 'Inherent Vice' reported to begin filming

    Paul Thomas Anderson is getting back to work, according to /film. The director of "The Master," "There Will Be Blood," "Punch Drunk Love" "Magnolia" and "Boogie Nights" is beginning to film his adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's novel "Inherent Vice."

  • New L.A. reading series asks: Fact or fiction?
    New L.A. reading series asks: Fact or fiction?

    In the past, fiction disguised as fact has infuriated readers. Oprah Winfrey took James Frey to task for the exaggerations in his not-entirely-true memoir "A Million Little Pieces." Author Misha Defonseca was ordered by a court to return $22.5 million for her fabricated memoir of being a Jewish...

  • Keeping literature dirty
    Keeping literature dirty

    I was almost sorry to see the developers of the Clean Reader app — which would have allowed squeamish or morally didactic readers to remove profanity from books — take “immediate action to remove all books from our catalogue” last week, in response to authors...

  • The strange, true tale of the naked bookseller
    The strange, true tale of the naked bookseller

    In Quartzsite, Ariz., at the sprawling Reader's Oasis bookshop, readers can purchase their books from a man known as the naked bookseller. Also known as Paul Winer or Sweet Pie, the naked bookseller has been selling books for 24 years.

  • Emily St. John Mandel's 'Station Eleven' wins the Tournament of Books
    Emily St. John Mandel's 'Station Eleven' wins the Tournament of Books

    It's been a good few months for Emily St. John Mandel. Her novel "Station Eleven" was a finalist for the National Book Award, and landed on the PEN/Faulkner shortlist and the longlist of the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. Even George R.R. Martin is a fan. And now: Here comes the Rooster.