Harper Lee Sues Agent Over ‘Mockingbird’ Royalties

Author Harper Lee
Harper Lee, author of "To Kill A Mockingbird", smiles before receiving the 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 5, 2007. Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

May 4 (Bloomberg) -- Harper Lee, the 87-year-old author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” sued her literary agent, claiming he took advantage of her age and infirmity to deprive her of royalties from the novel.

Lee, of Monroeville, Alabama, sued Samuel Pinkus, the agent, and others seeking to ensure her ownership of the copyright to the 1960 novel and to compel forfeiture of the agent’s commissions, according to a complaint filed yesterday in federal court in New York.

Lee, who has failing eyesight and hearing, was residing in an assisted-living facility in 2007 after suffering a stroke when she signed a document assigning her copyright to Pinkus’s company, according to the complaint. While the copyright was re-assigned to Lee last year after legal action and Pinkus was discharged as Lee’s agent, he was still receiving royalties from the novel as of this year, according to the complaint.

“Pinkus knew that Harper Lee was an elderly woman with physical infirmities that made it difficult for her to read and see,” Gloria Phares, Lee’s lawyer, said in the complaint. “Harper Lee had no idea she had assigned her copyright” to Pinkus’s company.

There was no immediate response yesterday to a message left on the voice-mail of Leigh Ann Winick of Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, a defendant in the suit and the wife of Pinkus, according to the complaint. She is listed as the president of Keystone Literary LLC, a defendant.

Also named as a defendant is Gerald Posner, identified as a New York lawyer and investigative journalist who incorporated one of Pinkus’s businesses. Posner didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail sent to his website yesterday seeking comment on the lawsuit.

Judgment, Arbitration

Lee’s literary agent for many years was McIntosh & Otis, according to the complaint. When its principal, Eugene Winick, became ill in 2002, his son-in-law, Pinkus, took over and diverted several McIntosh clients to a company he controlled, according to the complaint. McIntosh later won a judgment against Pinkus’s company in an arbitration over commissions he diverted from the firm, according to the complaint.

“To Kill a Mockingbird,” a story of racial injustice in the American South, won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was made into a film starring Gregory Peck, who won an Oscar for playing the lawyer Atticus Finch. It is Lee’s only published novel. The book has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide.

The case is Lee v. Pinkus, 13-3000, U.S. District Court, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

To contact the reporter on this story: Don Jeffrey in New York at djeffrey1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha in San Francisco at mhytha @bloomberg.net