Harper Lee, the 87-year-old author of To Kill a Mockingbird, has sued her literary agent, claiming he took advantage of her age and infirmity to deprive her of royalties from the novel.
Lee, of Monroeville, in the US state of 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 in a US federal court in New York.
Lee, who has failing eyesight and hearing, was living in a care facility in 2007 after suffering a stroke when she signed a document assigning her copyright to Pinkus' company, according to the complaint. While the copyright was reassigned 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," said Gloria Phares, Lee's lawyer. "Harper Lee had no idea she had assigned her copyright" to Pinkus' company.
There was no immediate response from Leigh Ann Winick of Hastings-on-Hudson, New York state, a defendant in the suit and the wife of Pinkus. She is listed as the president of Keystone Literary, a defendant.
Also named as a defendant is Gerald Posner, identified as a New York lawyer and investigative journalist who incorporated one of Pinkus' businesses.
Lee's literary agent for many years was McIntosh & Otis. When its principal, Eugene Winick, became ill in 2002, his son-in-law, Pinkus, took over and diverted McIntosh clients to a firm he controlled, says the complaint. McIntosh later won a judgment against Pinkus' company over commissions he diverted.
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.