Classic Novel at the Center of New Copyright Battle
On May 3, 2013, “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Nelle Harper Lee sued her former literary agent Samuel Pinkus and agency Veritas Media, Inc., accusing them of deceiving her into handing over the copyright to the book for nothing and wrongfully retaining the related commissions that Lee was entitled to.
The back story is a relatively complicated one: Lee’s complaint asserts that Pinkus took advantage of his father-in-law’s ailing health back in 2002, snagging all the father-in-law’s clients from his literary agency McIntosh & Otis, which included Lee. Then, Pinkus allegedly manipulated Lee, who was 80 years old at the time and recovering from a stroke in an assisted living facility, into handing over the rights to the work for no consideration. Lee is currently 87 years old.
Apparently, the moves by Pinkus were taken in an attempt to avoid a judgment that McIntosh won against him for the commissions for various literary works and authors. Though Pinkus eventually gave Lee back the copyright to the book in 2012, Lee’s suit asserts that Pinkus has been collecting commissions for the books’ rights since that time. The complaint notes, “Through all these years, Pinkus ignored his agent’s duty of loyalty and diligence to Lee, his principal, and neglected his obligation to act at all times in her interest.”
The lawsuit includes claims for breach of fiduciary duty and fraudulent inducement, and is seeking an undetermined amount in damages.