Harper Lee, who is known to most Sacramento readers as the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” recently sued a literary agent, accusing him of tricking her into assigning him the copyright to her only novel.
The agent being sued is the son of Lee’s longtime agent, who transferred some of his clients, including Lee, to his son when his health began to fail.
Lee’s lawsuit alleges that in 2007, when she was recuperating from a stroke, the agent conned her into assigning him the copyright to “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Ownership of the copyright means profits from the sale of the book go directly to him, not to Lee. “To Kill a Mockingbird” was published in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize; it’s considered a classic and still sells well today, so it is reasonable to assume the profits from sales of the book are not insubstantial.
In her lawsuit, Lee alleges that the agent knew she could not see well and had trouble reading. Interestingly enough, coverage we have read of her lawsuit does not indicate that she did not know what she was signing.
The agent has not formally responded to Lee’s lawsuit.
For many creative types, copyright is very symbolic. It exemplifies their legal ownership of a work of which they are undoubtedly proud. In addition, it allows them to profit from their work and to prevent others from misappropriating it.
If Lee was indeed swindled here (and we do not yet know that she was), we hope things can be set right soon.
Source: The Guardian, “Harper Lee sues agent over copyright to To Kill A Mockingbird,” May 4, 2013