Harper Lee Settles 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Lawsuit Over Royalties

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on September 16, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" lawsuit met an early conclusion. The lawsuit was dismissed after the author reached a settlement with Samuel L. Pinkus, the son-in-law of her former literary agent, who she claimed swindled her out of royalties generated by the iconic novel.

Her agent allegedly took advantage of her age and mental infirmities.

Capacity to Contract: Age or Mental Impairment

In order to be bound by a contract, a person must have the legal ability to form a contract in the first place.

This legal ability is called capacity to contract. A person who is unable, due to age or mental impairment, to understand what she is doing when she signs a contract may lack capacity to contract.

In this case, lawyers for the 87-year-old author had claimed the agent and others took advantage of her age and infirmity to deprive her of royalties, reports Bloomberg News.

According to the lawsuit, in 2007, the reclusive Lee, who resided in an assisted living facility, suffered from a hearing deficit and had also suffered a stroke.

During this time period, Lee assigned her copyright interest in "To Kill a Mockingbird" to the agent's firm. Lee claimed she had no recollection of agreeing to such a transfer and that the former agent, aware of her infirmities, took advantage of them to obtain ownership of the copyright interest, reports Bloomberg.

She allegedly lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties as a result of the transfer.

Depending on the circumstances, agreements with a lack of capacity may be deemed void or voidable.

Private Settlement

Lee agreed to end the lawsuit when the settlement was reached. As a result, the case won't go to trial, so the author won't be employing Atticus Finch's help in a courtroom.

Since the details of the settlement are confidential, it's unclear where the capacity issue and validity of the agreement stand, but Lee has reportedly found a happy (private) ending to her legal drama.

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