I know that the big copyright guys now love to use the term "copyright theft" to describe mere infringement. But if the story presented by Harper Lee, the 87-year-old author of To Kill A Mockingbird
, in a new lawsuit is accurate, it appears that she's one of the few actual victims of copyright theft. She's now sued her former literary agent Samuel Pinkus
, claiming that he effectively tricked her into signing away her copyright on the work to Pinkus' company, Keystone Literary.
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.
I've been trying to find the case in PACER and have so far failed (so if anyone has better luck, please let me know -- also shame on the news media for failing to post the actual filing). Though, in doing so, I discovered that Pinkus has been involved in a few other legal spats with authors, including with the heirs of John Steinbeck in a key case about termination rights and copyright.