Saturday, May 4, 2013

Harper Lee Sues Literary Agent Samuel Pinkus

Harper Lee, author of the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird, filed suit against literary agent, Samuel Pinkus. The novel is over fifty years old, and the story gets a little complicated.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan seeks unspecified damages from the son-in-law of Lee's former literary agent and companies he allegedly created.
The lawsuit alleges the son-in-law, Samuel Pinkus, failed to properly protect the copyright of the book after his father-in-law, Eugene Winick — who had represented Lee as a literary agent since the book was published in 1960 through the firm McIntosh and Otis — became ill a decade ago.

However, it should be noted that when I did my own search for Samuel Pinkus I came up with this on And I'm assuming this info is updated and accurate. Pinkus is not with McIntosh and Otis like his father-in-law, he's with Veritas Media, Inc. somewhere up in the Hudson Valley. And according to AQ, these are other authors he reps:

Represents famous authors Harper Lee, Mary Higgins Clark and the estate of John Steinbeck (Eugene Winick is co-agent for Higgins and Steinbeck's estate)

The law suit has already sparked the interest of several on Absolutewrite forums, here. And when they sink their teeth into something you know it's serious.

And this article is interesting because it mentions e-book rights, which I had a feeling might have something to do with this. I also could not find any digital editions of TKaM, so I'm gathering like so many books it has NOT been released in digital format. My big question here is why would a literary agent, author, or publisher NOT get this released in digital format by now. Of course I could be wrong, but I just couldn't seem to find it anywhere in digital.

It is also alleged that Pinkus failed to respond to offers on e-book rights and a request for assistance related to the book's 50th anniversary.

The lawsuit asks the court to assign any rights in the book owned by Pinkus to Lee and requests that he hand over any commission he took from 2007 onwards.

For those who don't know, author Truman Capote, who wrote Breakfast at Tiffany's, and was considered flamboyant gay before to word gay became common usage in the mainstream, and traveled with the likes of Babe Paley and other socialites, helped Lee get the novel published. I've read a few bios about Capote, and he was very friendly with Harper Lee. To the point where some have suggested he might also have had a good deal of influence in helping write TKaM. Although that's only been speculation on the part of the authors of those books, and it's never been proven. But aside from all this, the historical significance of TKaM when connected to the era in which it was released goes without saying. These were two of the most powerful authors of the twentieth century.

It will be interesting to see how this turns out, because we rarely hear about authors suing their agents...especially so many years later. Publishers maybe; agents almost never. The agent is the one single person the author should be able to trust with absolute confidence, and if that confidence is not there, well, there's no point being with them. And after what I read in David Gaughran's recent post about how some literary agents are using Argo Navis to self-publish their clients, some of whom are bloggers and have been handing out publishing advice for a long time to new authors, I'm starting to think authors need to become even more aware of their own circumstances.


Donetta Sifford said...

Wow. This was interesting to read. I had no idea this was going on and I adore To Kill a Mockingbird. I'm surprised at how many people I know that have not read the book. I agree with you that it should be in digital format by now but most definitely authors should be aware of what's happening with their work. Especially in this era with Ebooks and Chapbooks, ect. Speaking of publishing and blogs, would you mind if I share this information with a direct link to your blog? I find the subject important and you have it written much better than I would have. But I won't share until you say it's okay. Thank you. :)

ryan field said...

Feel free to share :)