‘Mockingbird’ author sues over trademarkMONTGOMERY, Alabama - “To Kill a Mockingbird’’ author Harper Lee is suing a museum in her hometown of Monroeville to stop it from selling souvenirs with her name and the title of her Pulitzer Prize-winning book.
The lawsuit, filed last week in federal court in Mobile, said the Monroe County Heritage Museum has traded on Lee’s fame without her approval and without compensating her. It seeks an unspecified amount in damages.
“Every single statement in the lawsuit is either false, meritless or both,” museum attorney Matt Goforth said in an e-mail Friday.
The suit comes after Lee sought a federal trademark for the title of her book when it’s used on clothing. The museum opposed her application, saying its souvenir sales are vital to its continued operation. A ruling is over a year away.
Lee’s book is set in fictional Maycomb County, but her suit says the setting was inspired by the real Monroe County where she lives in south Alabama. The museum in Monroeville has displays honoring her and presents the play “To Kill a Mockingbird” each summer in the old county courthouse courtroom, which served as a model for the movie’s courtroom. The museum pays royalties for using the play, which is not an issue in the suit.
The suit contends the museum has profited from the unauthorized use of Lee’s name and book title through the sale of clothing and a variety of souvenirs. Its Web site also uses the title (www.tokillamockingbird.com) without any compensation, the suit says.
“Ms. Lee has suffered a stroke and is in ill health. The defendant apparently believes that she lacks the desire to police her trademarks, and therefore seeks to take advantage of Ms. Lee’s condition and property. The defendant is mistaken,” the suit says.
The suit says that in August, the museum refused an offer from Lee to sell it merchandise she had authorized.