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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Harper Lee Sues to Recover Her Rights to To Kill a Mockingbird

TKAMFor many lawyers, To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM) is at the top of their list of "favorite books/movies about a lawyer." TKAM is about more than lawyering, of course.  It's about racism, family, class and much more.  This week, TKAM also is about "fraudulent inducement," "consideration" (a lack thereof) and "fiduciary duty." All of those subjects are in the complaint filed by TKAM author, (Nelle) Harper Lee, against her purported literary agent.

In the suit, Lee alleges that Samuel L. Pinkus (and a few other defendants) fraudulently induced her to sign her TKAM rights over to one of Pinkus's companies in 2007 and again in 2011. According to Lee, Pinkus, the son-in-law of Lee's longtime agent, Eugene Winick, transferred many of Winick's clients to himself when Winick fell ill in 2006. Pinkus then allegedly misappropriated royalties and failed to promote Lee's copyright in the U.S. and abroad.

For Contracts professors, the Lee v. Pinkus suit provides some interesting hypos to discuss when teaching fraud, consideration, and assignments of rights. Regarding fraud, Lee alleges that Pinkus lied to her about what she was signing at a time when she was particularly vulnerable due to a recent stroke and declining eyesight.  Consideration is in play because there allegedly was no consideration from Pinkus to Lee in exchange for Lee's transfer of rights to Pinkus.  Assignment issues arose because the many companies who owed Lee royalties reportedly struggled to figure out which company or companies they should pay given Pinkus's many shell companies.  Overall, it's a sad story for Ms. Lee but one that students may find particularly engaging.

[Heidi R. Anderson]

p.s. Although there are many quote-worthy passages in TKAM, a favorite of mine (useful when advising students about their writing) is: “Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I'd have the facts.” Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments.

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