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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine