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A Different Sort of Copyright Theft

Normally on this blog, when we talk about copyright infringement or intellectual property theft, the perpetrators are people generally unknown to the rights-holder — for-profit pirates operating from parts unknown, file-sharing web users, and the like. After all, our business is in DMCA takedown services, so it makes sense for our focus to be squarely on that manner of infringement.

Over the weekend, a story broke about a different (and far more literal) form of copyright theft: To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee has filed a lawsuit against her literary agent, Samuel Pinkus (the son-in-law of Lee’s ailing long-time agent, Eugene Winick), alleging that Pinkus duped Lee into signing away her copyright to the book back in 2007.

Here is how Reuters describes the facts that led to the lawsuit being filed:

“When Winick became ill in 2002, Pinkus diverted several of Winick’s clients to his own company….Pinkus in 2007 “engaged in a scheme to dupe” the then 80-year-old Lee into assigning her To Kill a Mockingbird copyright without any payment…. Pinkus engineered the transfer of Lee’s rights to secure himself “irrevocable” interest in the income derived from her book and to avoid paying legal obligations he owed to his father-in-law’s company for royalties that Pinkus allegedly misappropriated [according to the lawsuit].”

If Lee’s claims about Pinkus are true, then Pinkus is vermin of the worst sort. Taking financial advantage of an elderly person, particularly one who suffers from eyesight and hearing problems of the sort that makes it hard for them to know when they are being played, isn’t just wrong, it’s despicable. When you’re a person who is supposed to be helping that same elderly person for a living, it just makes the scam all the more cruel.

Pinkus has not responded to Lee’s claims yet, either in the media or in court, so it remains to be seen what his side of the story is. Given the nature of the work at issue, one sure hopes that the real-life triers of fact in this situation come to a more sound conclusion than did the jury who heard Tom Robinson’s case….