(Paul Harris’s article appeared in the Observer, 5/4.)
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, in a shock move, 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.