To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee sues hometown museum for selling merchandise

Author alleges illegal profiting from her much loved book in move that could force closure

Los Angeles

It’s a disconcerting tale of alleged injustice in small-town Alabama. A museum dedicated to Harper Lee’s classic 1960 novel To Kill A Mockingbird is fighting a lawsuit, brought by the author, which accuses it of profiting illegally from the title of her widely beloved book.

Lee, who is 87 and reportedly in poor health, filed the lawsuit last week, claiming that the Monroe County Heritage Museum had tried “to confuse, mislead and deceive the public” into thinking she had approved and endorsed its range of To Kill A Mockingbird-branded merchandise.

The author has said in the past that Maycomb, the town depicted in the novel, was based on Monroeville, Alabama, where the popular, 25-year-old museum is located. Its property includes an old courthouse, on which the set for the 1962 film adaptation was based. Its website address is tokillamockingbird.com. The museum generated more than $500,000 (£309,000) in revenue in 2011, claiming in its tax documents that its purpose is primarily historical. Lee’s lawsuit alleges, however, that “its actual work does not touch upon history. Rather, its primary mission is to trade upon the fictional story, settings and characters that Harper Lee created.”

The museum’s lawyer Matthew Goforth refuted the allegations, telling Reuters, “Every single statement in the lawsuit is either false, meritless, or both … I find it curious that her handlers suddenly want to profit by suing the museum for essentially preserving and promoting what Ms Lee helped accomplish for this community.”

If Lee’s lawsuit is successful, it could put the museum out of business. Stephanie Rogers, its executive director, told The Hollywood Reporter she had not read the suit. “The museum has been doing what we always have done,” Rogers said. “We honour her here. We don’t sell anything with her name. We sell memorabilia to those who come to see a production of To Kill a Mockingbird that we secure dramatic rights to. Everything we do is above board. I’m shocked by this.”

To Kill A Mockingbird remains Nelle Harper Lee’s only published book. It won her a Nobel Prize, while the film version won Gregory Peck an Academy Award for Best Actor. Peck played Atticus Finch, a small-town “Jim Crow”-era lawyer, who defends an African-American man wrongly accused of rape. Since its original publication in 1960, the book has sold more than 30 million copies in more than 25 languages.

The lawsuit says Lee, who recently suffered a stroke, now resides in an assisted living facility in Monroeville. This is not the first time she has challenged the museum’s legitimacy. When it began selling a cookbook named after a key character, Calpurnia’s Cook Book, the author complained and the book was pulped. Last month, Lee settled a separate lawsuit against her former literary agent, whom she accused of having duped her into signing away the novel’s copyright.

Lee’s legal history

May 2007

While recovering from a stroke Harper Lee signs a document assigning the copyright for To Kill a Mockingbird to her agent’s company, Veritas Media, Inc (VMI). Lee claims to have no recollection of this.

April 2012

Copyright reassigned to Lee. Samuel Pinkus ceases to be her agent.

May 2013

Lee sues Pinkus and others claiming he took advantage of her old age to deprive her of royalties and that Pinkus was still receiving royalties at the time of the lawsuit.

September 2013

The case was settled after a “mutually satisfactory resolution”, according to attorney Vincent Carissimi.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez missed a penalty before scoring the opening goal with a header at the back post
footballLive! Sanchez makes up for penalty miss to put Arsenal ahead
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all