Harper Lee is suing over “To Kill A Mockingbird” copyright

Celebrity writer lawsuit news from today’s Publisher’s Lunch:

Updating our Monday story on the Harper Lee copyright lawsuit, the full complaint depicts the alleged depths of the scheme that Samuel Pinkus is said to have engaged in, along with Lee Ann Winick and Gerald Posner, to mislead Lee and her publishers about the copyright status of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

The suit alleges that “Pinkus created several different companies to handle the receipt of royalties and commissions and directed the payment of royalties to a continually changing series of bank accounts”¬†as a bid to avoid the nearly $800,000 in commissions he and his company Veritas Media were required to pay back McIntosh & Otis (as we documented Monday). Those companies included Philogus Procurator, jointly owned by Pinkus and Gerald Posner; Keystone Literary, incorporated in 2012 by Winick; and Nassau Marketing, which has the same address as Keystone.

In a sea of accused neglect and oversight, Pinkus did pay attention to one interesting detail, the suit notes. While allegedly ignoring HarperCollins’ requests regarding electronic rights and the book’s 50th anniversary, Pinkus did properly serve a termination notice to Harper “entitling Harper Lee to negotiate a new US agreement beginning in 2016.” The suit says HarperCollins has “offered terms” for that renewal license, though “not until 2012 did Pinkus even respond to that offer and then made no further efforts to negotiate.”

Lee’s complaint lists a number of instances when she was pressed by Pinkus to sign documents that would assert his copyright ownership of TKAM, even after she had terminated her agreement at the end of 2008. As for the initial copyright transfer in 2007, the document Lee was purported to have signed “was not notarized”, and she had no recollection of ever having signed it. In addition, Lee said that VMI nor any of the succeeding companies have sent royalty statements, only “one-page remittance advices.”

Even after the TKAM copyright was reassigned back to Lee in 2012, Pinkus continued to conduct business with HarperCollins and other partners as if he were still the copyright holder and Lee’s business representative. That resulted in both HarperCollins and Lee’s UK publisher paying royalties on April 2012 to Philologus, which took commission before remitting the balance. In October 2012 Keystone Literary, another company Lee says she had not authorized to act on her behalf, took commission on her UK royalties. And as recently as last month, Pinkus was said to have pressured the UK publisher to pay royalties through Philologus.

I wish Publisher’s Lunch would drop this business of compacting titles and everything else into scrunchwords that make me pause to figure them out. “TKAM?” Come on. You can’t type “To Kill A Mockingbird”?

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