Author Battles to Protect Earnings Possible Under Copyright Law

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Most young Floridians do not graduate from high school without reading the classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. The story involves a dramatic legal case, as the father of the main character is asked to defend an innocent man in a criminal case with strong racial undertones. However, it appears that a new courtroom drama involving the author may be taking center stage.

The author, now 87 years old, is suing her former literary agent for abusing the trust she placed in him to manage the royalties that flowed from her continued ownership of her literary classic and only published work. The author has used copyright law to her advantage throughout her life, drawing royalties from the almost 50 million copies of the book sold since its publication. In 2007, she granted her then-agent the copyright to her book; although the agent finally signed the copyright back over, the author alleges that the agent took advantage of her mental and physical state to take hold of her earnings. She is asking for both the commissions her agent earned during that time as well as unspecified damages.

The case illustrates the need for all creative artists and entertainment industry professionals to take an interest in protecting their intellectual property. When someone writes and performs an inspiring song, paints a masterpiece or writes an award-winning novel like Harper Lee, in most cases the intellectual property rights attached to the work are owned by the creator. However, in today’s entertainment industry, ownership or the rights to use copyrighted material become an important business consideration. Thus, educated decisions about how to manage the work need to be made, and it can be vital to understand all the related legal issues before executing a plan of action.

In the end, not all disputes or lawsuits are avoidable, but ensuring artists understand their rights under copyright law can empower them to make the best decisions possible. Or, as in Lee’s case, articles can seek compensation when their intellectual property rights are violated.

Source: Today, “Harper Lee ‘Mockingbird’ lawsuit ‘as dramatic as legal thriller’,” Eun Kyung Kim, July 11, 2013

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