BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Reuters) - The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee, is locked in a dispute with a museum in her Alabama hometown over the use of the novel’s title.
The 87-year-old author has filed an application seeking a trademark for the book’s title when it is displayed on clothing and other merchandise.
The move is being challenged by the Monroe County Heritage Museum, which says it sells T-shirts and souvenirs with the words “To Kill a Mockingbird” to help fund its operations.
The museum, located in Monroeville, Alabama, is dedicated to the novel, widely considered a classic. The museum draws thousands of fans each year and includes an old courthouse that served as a model for the courtroom in the movie version of the novel that starred Gregory Peck.
The museum “would be happy to talk with Ms. Lee about this matter,” according to Matthew Goforth, a lawyer for the museum. “To our knowledge, Ms. Lee has never engaged in any use of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ as a trademark in connection with the sale of any item, and the museum is doing what is necessary to protect its trademark rights in the merchandise it has been selling for many years,” Goforth said.
Robert Clarida, an attorney for Lee, said he believed his client should receive a portion of the proceeds. “Who is going to buy those T-shirts if they don’t say ‘To Kill a Mockingbird?’” he asked.
The book, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and has sold more than 30 million copies, tells the story of two children of an attorney growing up in a small Southern town.
Their father, who is white, is selected to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman, and the man is convicted despite his innocence.
It is the only novel that Lee ever published.
Earlier this month, Lee agreed to terminate a lawsuit she filed against her former agent that claimed she had been tricked into giving away the copyright to her novel. No details of the agreement were made public.
(This story corrects the characterization of the museum’s trademark application in the fifth paragraph to make clear that museum is not refusing to share profits with Lee)
Reporting by Verna Gates and Melinda Dickinson; Editing by Kevin Gray and Eric Beech