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Harper Lee 'Mockingbird' lawsuit 'as dramatic as a legal thriller'

July 11, 2013 at 8:42 AM ET

Video: The author of one of America’s most beloved novels, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” has filed a lawsuit, contending her literary agent convinced her to sign over the copyright for the book in 2007, giving him control of millions in royalties. NBC’s Kate Snow reports.

Harper Lee, who largely shunned publicity after publishing her only novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” in 1960, is now waging a public court battle against an agent who allegedly duped her out of royalties from the Pulitzer Prize-winning classic.

“At 87, Harper Lee's quiet life has become as dramatic as a legal thriller,” said Mark Seal, who wrote about the case in the August edition of Vanity Fair.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" has sold nearly 50 million copies since it was published a half century ago, and it remains a staple in high school English classes.

In her lawsuit, Lee argues that literary agent Sam Pinkus convinced her to sign over the copyright for her book in 2007. The rights gave him control of millions of dollars in royalties that flowed to “multiple, ever-changing bank accounts and companies” over five years.

Pinkus eventually signed the book’s rights back over to the author, but Lee’s lawyers are now seeking unspecified damages along with the commissions Pinkus received while he held the copyright.

The lawsuit claims Pinkus abused the trust he elicited from Lee, knowing she was “an elderly woman with physical infirmities that made it difficult for her to read and see."

Neither Pinkus nor his attorney would comment to NBC, but they are scheduled to respond to the lawsuit in August.

Seal said the lawsuit "is going to be a fascinating case should it come to trial.

"As Harper Lee's own editor said, it's one of the great mysteries and everybody ‘s trying to figure out exactly what happened," he added.

Lee, who still lives in her hometown of Monroeville, Ala., gave her last interview in 1964 and withdrew from the public spotlight shortly later. Although her attorneys say she has trouble seeing and hearing, she is fully aware of the legal battle, her one-time biographer told Vanity Fair.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" tells the story of a young girl named Scout growing up in the deep South with her father, an attorney who defends an innocent man in a racially charged case.


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