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Harper Lee Sues Agent Over Royalties From ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’

Harper Lee, who mostly retired from public life after publishing her classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird, is suing her former agent alleging that he deceived her out of royalties from the sale of the book:

Harper Lee, the author of To Kill A Mockingbird, has sued her literary agent for allegedly duping her into assigning him the copyright on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

In the lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan, Lee says Samuel Pinkus, the son-in-law of Lee’s long-time agent, Eugene Winick, took advantage of her failing hearing and eyesight to transfer the rights on the book, which has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide and became an Oscar-winning film.

The 87-year-old says she has no memory of agreeing to relinquish her rights or signing the agreement that cements the purported transfer.

Winick had represented Lee for more than 40 years. When he became ill in 2002, Pinkus diverted several of his father-in-law’s clients to his own company, the lawsuit said.

According to the lawsuit, in 2007 Pinkus “engaged in a scheme to dupe” Lee into assigning the novel’s copyright without any payment and had since failed to respond to licence requests.

To Kill a Mockingbird is the only published book by the author, who lives in Monroeville, Alabama, and is rarely seen in public.

It is also alleged that Pinkus failed to respond to offers on e-book rights and a request for assistance related to the book’s 50th anniversary.

The lawsuit asks the court to assign any rights in the book owned by Pinkus to Lee and requests that he hand over any commission he took from 2007 onwards.

I’m not able to comment about the legal merit’s of Lee’s claims without knowing more about the case, but from the way the allegations are described in news reports it seems that there may be a fairly good case of fraud here. Pincus better get himself a good lawyer.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. michael reynolds says:


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  2. Pincus better get himself a good lawyer.

    Trying to get himself Atticus Finch is how Pincus got into this mess to begin with.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  3. Neil Hudelson says:

    From what I understand (and I have no memory of how I came by this information–lost to the ethers) Harper is known as someone you don’t want to cross in any thing, and Pincus decided to cross her on her entire legacy.

    He’d better watch his back.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. CSK says:

    Literary agents can be very good…or they can be dreadful. There’s no real way to tell the honest, hardworking, and competent from the crooked, lazy, and incompetent. Anyone can call him or herself an agent. There are no educational or professional credentials necessary, and there’s no licensing board to oversee things.

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  5. Sejanus says:

    According to one of her friends, Harper Lee suffers from memory loss, so the fact that she doesn’t remember said agreement does not necessarily mean it didn’t happen. With that being said, the brief description of her condition in the link I posted suggests she might not be competent to make such agreements in the first place.

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  6. Moderate Mom says:

    Just from a logical standpoint, why would Harper Lee assign what amounts to her legacy to someone else? It just doesn’t make sense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. sam says:

    Nice Harper Lee – Gregory Peck story (told by Peck). Harper was on the set one day watching Peck. After one scene, Peck looked over and saw that she was crying. He went over to her and asked iif she was upset because of the way he’d read the lines. “No,” she said, ‘it’s just that my daddy had nice little pot belly just like you do.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

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