‘To steal a Mockingbird?’- Harper Lee v. Samuel Pinkus Law Suit

Harper Lee, the reclusive author of To Kill A Mockingbird, has sued a literary agent, claiming that he tricked the ageing writer into assigning him copyright on the classic book.  The move marks a rare step into the spotlight for Lee, who is known for keeping a low profile for such a household name, living quietly in a tiny town in the deep south of America and eschewing almost all media requests.

However, 87-year-old Lee has now filed a lawsuit in a Manhattan court alleging that Samuel Pinkus, the son-in-law of Lee’s long-time agent, Eugene Winick, tricked Lee into signing over the copyright on the book.

The case claims that Pinkus “engaged in a scheme to dupe” Lee into assigning the copyright without any payment. The ploy is alleged to have taken place in 2007, five years after Winick became ill and Pinkus started diverting some of his clients into his own company. Lee’s lawsuit says Pinkus engineered the transfer of Lee’s rights to secure himself “irrevocable” interest in the income derived from To Kill A Mockingbird. It adds that he also avoided paying legal obligations that he owed to his father-in-law’s company for royalties that Pinkus had allegedly misappropriated.

Lee has been suffering declining health for some years and has trouble with her eyesight and hearing. The case reveals that when she signed the document she was living in an assisted-living facility after suffering a stroke. It says she argues that she has no memory of agreeing to relinquish her rights to the book and signing an agreement that memorialises the purported transfer of income.

According to Gloria Phares, Lee’s lawyer, Pinkus knew that Harper Lee was an elderly woman with physical infirmities that made it difficult for her to read and see. The suit also reveals that the copyright was reassigned to Lee last year after she took legal action. Though Pinkus then ceased to be Lee’s agent, he was still getting royalties this year, according to the file. So far Pinkus has made no comment on the allegations.

But recently, there was news that the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird” has made peace with the literary agent who allegedly ripped her off. Harper Lee is dropping her big bucks lawsuit against her former agent Samuel Pinkus and others she’d charged had conned her out of the copyright to her novel, widely considered one of the greatest in American history.  According to both the lawyers, they have reached a settlement.


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