TODAY

TODAY   |  July 11, 2013

Author Harper Lee suing over ‘Mockingbird’ royalties

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.

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>>> raging over one of america's most treasured novels "to kill a mockingbird." it is required reading for millions of students for half a century. nbc's national correspondent kate snow has the details on this story. kate, good morning to you.

>> good morning, savannah. this thing exploded on social media . legions of fans defending one of their favorite authors. harper lee wrote just one book but it was a winner. it sold nearly 50 million copies. but now at the age of 87 her attorneys say lee was duped. they say royalties from the book that should have been hers were funneled somewhere else.

>> you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. , cli ,.

>> the movie earned gregory peck an oscar but most of us read the book more than 50 years after it was first published "to kill a mockingbird" is still a must read about a young girl named scout growing up in the deep south and her lawyer father who defends an innocent man.

>> this is one of the first books i wanted to encourage other people to read. you know. read this book. read this book.

>> reporter: as celebrated as her book was the novelist harper lee never wanted publicity. she still lives in her hometown of monroeville, alabama and gave her last interview back in 1964 . but now a lawsuit has thrust her into an unwanted spotlight.

>> at 87, harper lee 's quiet life has become as dramatic as a legal thriller .

>> reporter: mark seal wrote about the lawsuit in the august edition of " vanity fair ." the suit contends lee's trusted literary agent sam pinketts convinced her to sign over the copyright for her book in 2007 which gave him control of millions of dollars in royalties over five years. money the lawsuit alleges that flowed to multiple, ever changing bank accounts and companies. lee's lawyers demanded and obtained the return of the copyright but are seeking damages and the commissions pincus earned during the time he held the copyright saying he didn't act in the novelist's best interests. pincus knew that harper lee was an elderly woman with physical infirmities that made it difficult for her to read and see, the lawsuit says. lee trusted her agent it goes on. pinkus abused that trust. sam pinkus is due to answer the charges in august.

>> this is the beginning of a case that is going to be a fascinating case should it come to trial. harper lee 's own editor said it is one of the great mysteries and everybody is trying to figure out exactly what happened.

>> sam pinkus and his attorney had no comment for us. he is due in court here in new york in august due to respond to the charges and harper lee 's lawyers say at 87 she has trouble hearing and seeing but her one-time biographer tells " vanity fair " she is fully aware of this legal battle . this public display all such an irony for a woman who spent so many years wanting to stay out of the lime light.

>> it still amazes me that she wrote one book. it was a masterpiece. it is really one of the great books. if young people haven't read it, it is a sensational, sensational book.

>> if you wrote one that well, why write another one.

>> exactly right. and the movie was incredible.

>> won an oscar for gregory peck .

>> thank you very much, kate.