MOBILE, Ala. (CN) – “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee sued her hometown museum, accusing it of violating her trademark and persona to profit in bad faith from her name and her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
Nelle Harper Lee sued the Monroe County Heritage Museum in Federal Court. She claims the museum had the brass to try to cancel her trademark in the title of her book.
Lee, 87, is a resident of Monroeville, the Monroe County seat. She wrote no other books and refuses to give speeches about the book, which has been translated into 40 languages and has sold more than 30 million copies.
“The town’s desire to capitalize upon the fame of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is unmistakable: Monroeville’s town logo features an image of a mockingbird and the cupola of the Old County Courthouse, which was the setting for the dramatic trial in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird,'” Lee says in the lawsuit.
“The lightly populated, rural county is also home to the Museum. The Museum seeks to profit from the unauthorized use of the protected names and trademarks of ‘Harper Lee’ and ‘To Kill A Mockingbird.’ It is a substantial business that generated over $500,000 in revenue for 2011, the last year for which figures are available.”
Lee claims that the Museum misrepresents itself to the IRS, by claiming on IRS Form 990 “that its mission is ‘historical’ (referring to ‘historical buildings’, ‘historical interest’, ‘historical presentations’ and ‘historical events’), but its actual work does not touch upon history. Rather, its primary mission is to trade upon the fictional story, settings and characters that Harper Lee created in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird,’ and Harper Lee’s own renown as one of the nation’s most celebrated authors.”
Lee adds, in high dudgeon: “Historical facts belong to the world, but fiction and trademarks are protected by law. The Museum has steadfastly ignored Ms. Lee’s demands that it cease and desist from its illegal action. The Museum has even attempted to block Ms. Lee’s federal registration of her trademark in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ Ms. Lee has no choice but to seek relief in this court.”
The Museum has a gift shop, operates a website under the domain tokillamockingbird.com and sells promotional goods using Lee’s name and trademarks, according to the complaint.
Lee seeks an injunction and damages for trademark violation and dilution, false designation of origin, and misappropriation of her name for commercial gain.
She is represented by Clay Rankin III of Mobile.
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