By Carolyn Kellogg
8:44 AM PDT, May 4, 2013
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.
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