Harper Lee Claims Agent’s Son in Law|Swiped Rights to ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Harper Lee sued her literary agent’s son in law, claiming he took advantage of her age and infirmities to swipe royalties and the copyright to her only novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird.”
     Lee, 87, has lived a mostly secluded life in Monroeville, Ala., since the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was published in 1960.
     She sued three people and four corporate entities in Federal Court.
     Lead defendant Samuel L. Pinkus is the son-in-law of her former literary agent, Eugene Winick.
     Lee claims that Pinkus seized on her failing health a decade ago to seize her rights to “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide and was made into an Oscar-winning film starring Gregory Peck.
     Winick represented Lee for four decades, through the firm Mackintosh & Otis, until he became seriously ill in 2002.
     Then, Lee claims, Winick’s son-in-law, “Defendant Pinkus, took the opportunity to divert several M&O clients to a new company that Pinkus controlled, Veritas Media, Inc. (‘VMI’), and then engaged in a scheme to dupe Harper Lee, then 80 years old with declining hearing and eyesight, into assigning her valuable TKAM copyright to VMI for no consideration.”
     The complaint continues: “Pinkus’s motive for engaging in this conduct appears related to his efforts to avoid M&O’s efforts to collect on a judgment that it had recovered against VMI in a New York arbitration over entitlement to commissions on the works and author’s (including Harper Lee) that Pinkus had diverted from M&O during Eugene Winick’s illness.
     “To avoid that judgment against VMI, Pinkus created several different companies to handle the receipt of royalties and commissions and directed payment of royalties to a continually changing series of bank accounts. Pinkus also assigned Harper Lee’s copyright, yet again, from VMI to another company that he controlled and signed foreign licenses on Harper Lee’s behalf granting rights at times when Pinkus knew that he owned the copyright in TKAM and that Harper Lee could not validly transfer the licensed rights.”
     “Through all these years, Pinkus ignored his agent’s duty of loyalty and diligence to Harper Lee, his principal, and neglected his obligation to act at all times in her interest. That dereliction of duty included his failure to exploit Harper Lee’s copyright on her behalf, even when pressed by publishers and potential licensees to do so.” (Citation to exhibit omitted.)
     Lee also sued Gerald Posner, a New York City attorney who has a home in Miami Beach. She claims he incorporated co-defendant Philologus Procurator Inc., “and has conducted PPI business with foreign literary agents.”
     Defendant Lee Ann Winick, Samuel Pinkus’s wife, is president of co-defendant Keystone Literary LLC, the complaint states. The Pinkuses live in Hastings on Hudson.
     Lee claims defendant Veritas Media is operated out of the Pinkuses’ home address.
     Defendant Nassau Marketing LLC, of Brooklyn, shares an address for service with Keystone, she says.
     Citing her own advancing years and infirmities – including a June 2007 stroke – Lee claims that Pinkus preyed upon her when her attorney and most trusted adviser, her sister Alice Lee, now 101, was also suffering physical decline.
     “Alice Lee’s deafness began about 20 years ago, and she eventually became profoundly deaf, starting around 2002, she relied on lip reading,” Harper Lee says in the complaint.
     But her sister remained her attorney until late 2011.
     Harper Lee says she has no memory of agreeing to relinquish her rights to the book, nor of ever discussing such a thing. She claims Pinkus often visited her in Alabama, “especially when he had papers that needed to be signed.”
     After her stroke, she says, she moved into an assisted living facility. Pinkus continued to call on her there – “sometimes without prior announcement … Until Harper Lee finally gave orders that the management of the facility was not to permit his entrance,” according to the complaint.
     Lee claims that during underlying arbitration, Pinkus testified that all U.S. royalties VMI received in 2009 and 2010 relating to Harper Lee were sent to her directly without deduction of a commission.
     But Lee says that paperwork accompanying those payments reflect a deduction of 10 percent in commission fees. She adds: “Pinkus testified during the arbitration that he had discarded and therefore could not produce any documentation relating to VMI’s receipt of commissions or compliance with the settlement agreement with M&O.”
     Lee claims Pinkus failed to act in good faith in several other instances: “In the years since Pinkus left M&O, he has acted on Harper Lee’s behalf primarily to the extent of trying to secure irrevocably his right to commissions from TKAM until the end of the copyright,” the complaint states. “He has not responded to offers by HarperCollins to discuss the licensing of e-book rights; he failed to respond to requests for permissions from other publishers, which sometimes went without responses for years; he failed to respond to HarperCollins’s requests for assistance related to the 50th anniversary of TKAM’s publication.”
     Despite this indifference to his client, Lee says: “Pinkus ensured that a termination notice was given to HarperCollins and other licensees, entitling Harper Lee to negotiate a new U.S. agreement beginning in 2016. If Pinkus negotiated those agreements, he stood to benefit from what presumably would be higher royalties. The Copyright Act permits the current licensee to negotiate before the designated 2016 termination date, and HarperCollins has offered terms. Not until 2012 did Pinkus even respond to that offer and then made no further efforts to negotiate.”
     Lee adds: “The transfer of ownership of an author’s copyright to her agent is incompatible with her agent’s duty of loyalty; it is a gross example of self-dealing.”
     She claims that “Pinkus engineered such a transfer as part of a scheme to secure to himself an irrevocable interest in the income stream from Harper Lee’s copyright and to avoid his legal obligations to M&O under the arbitration decision.”
     Lee asks the court to assign any and all rights in the book back to her, and to order Pinkus to repay any commissions he’s pocketed from it since 2007.
     She is represented by Gloria C. Phares, with Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler.

%d bloggers like this: