Harper Lee Sues Over 'Mockingbird' Copyright

Reclusive author Harper Lee has filed a lawsuit against the son-in-law of her former literary agent, claiming he tricked her into signing away her copyright to her classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And now, from one American institution to another.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD")

GREGORY PECK: (as Atticus Finch) The defendant is not guilty. But somebody in this courtroom is.

GREENE: You might recognize it. That's one of fiction's greatest legal minds; Atticus Finch, as portrayed by Gregory Peck, making his closing argument in the film adaptation of "To Kill a Mockingbird." The novel itself, about a white lawyer defending a falsely accused black man in the segregation-era South, won the Pulitzer Prize for its author, Harper Lee, and is considered an American classic.

And now, just like Finch, the 87-year-old Lee is turning to the courts for justice.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD")

PECK: (as Atticus Finch) Now, gentlemen, in this country, our courts are the great levelers. In our courts, all men are created equal.

GREENE: Lee is suing, charging that the son-in-law of her longtime agent duped her into giving him the book's copyright, by taking advantage of her failing hearing and eyesight. She filed a suit last week in a federal court in Manhattan.

Harper Lee is famously reclusive. She hasn't published another novel since "To Kill a Mockingbird," and very rarely speaks to the press. But through her book, she has made her views very clear about the legal system, courage and justice.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD")

PECK: (as Atticus Finch) I'm no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts, and of our jury system. That's no ideal to me. That is a living, working reality.

GREENE: A reality Harper Lee is now putting to the test.

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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