For those of you who don’t know - Harper Lee is the author of one of my favorites – To Kill a Mockingbird which was published in 1960. The novel is set in the racial South and won a Pulitzer Prize. It was also turned into a compelling movie featuring the legendary Gregory Peck who won an Oscar for his portrayal of lawyer Atticus Finch.
Harper Lee is still alive, at the ripe age of 87. Ms. Lee has failing eyesight and hearing. She resides in an assisted-living facility since 2007 after suffering a stroke.
Harper Lee engages McIntosh & Otis as her literary agent for many years. When Eugene Winick,one of the principles at the firm became ill in 2002, his son-in-law Mr. Samuel Pinkus took over. Pinkus was sued by McIntosh for stealing several clients, including Ms. Lee.
In 2007, Ms. Lee signed a document assigning her copyright to her agent’s company. The idea was that her agent, Mr. Samuel Pinkus, would act on her behalf.
Once Harper Lee found out that her agent took advantage of her advanced age and infirmity to swindle her out of royalties due to her. She promptly sued at the federal court in New York. ( Lee v. Pinkus, 13-3000, U.S. District Court, U.S. Bankruptcy Court,Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
Samuel Pinkus et al are sued to confirm Harper Lee’s copyright ownership of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. In her suit, she asks that all commissions received by Pinkus will be forfeited.
Last year, Lee’s copyright was re-assigned to her after legal action. Samuel Pinkus was fired as her agent. However, he kept receiving royalties from sales of “To Kill a Mockingbird” as detailed in the legal complaint.
According to Harper Lee’s lawyer Ms. Gloria Phares: “Pinkus knew that Harper Lee was an elderly woman with physical infirmities that made it difficult for her to read and see. Harper Lee had no idea she had assigned her copyright.”
The defendants, Samuel Pinkus and his wife Ann Winick did not respond. Ms. Winick is the president of Keystone Literary LLC and listed as a defendant. Another named defendant, Gerald Posner, also did not respond. Mr. Posner is a New York lawyer and investigative journalist who incorporated one of Pinkus’s businesses.
Ms. Lee wrote an amazing novel that inspired generations. Taking advantage of her is just obnoxious. Let’s hope that the court sees it the same way.