|Swindles & Scams||May 5 2013|
One of the most reclusive writers in the world has been forced to step into the public eye because of what she claims was a carefully orchestrated swindle. Harper Lee, author of the American classic To Kill a Mockingbird, filed suit in a Manhattan court against a man she says stole rights to her book. Lee’s lawsuit details how Samuel Pinkus, the son-in-law of her longtime agent Eugene Winick, tricked Lee into transferring the copyright on her 1960 masterpiece. In 2002 Eugene Winick was ill and Pinkus began folding some of his father-in-law’s clients into his own literary agency. In 2007 Pinkus took advantage of Lee’s failing eyesight and hearing to transfer Lee’s rights to himself, assuming irrevocable interest in the income derived from To Kill A Mockingbird, and offering no payment to the author. Lee signed the crucial papers when she was recuperating from a stroke. In 2012 she took legal action and regained the copyright, but Pinkus still derives income from sales of the book though he is no longer Lee’s agent. The lawsuit says Lee has no memory of agreeing to anything, and frankly, any neutral observer would find it hard to disbelieve her.
Since this is a website, not a court, we’ll just say what other stories about this haven’t yet—Samuel Pinkus thought Harper Lee was going to die and stole her book. With Lee dead, and very little likelihood such a private individual would have discussed the matter with anyone, there would have been nobody to dispute his ownership of a revered, Pulitzer Prize-winning gold mine. When she recovered and realized what had happened, Pinkus scrambled to give the copyright back but had arranged to keep raking money off the top in perpetuity—his backup plan. Pinkus, naturally, has had no comment on the lawsuit, and presumably won’t until the Manhattan court has to decide whether his scam will stand. In this age of trillion dollar bank swindles, naked buy-offs of elected officials, and rampant court corruption, we don’t have high hopes for Ms. Lee. In fact, we suspect that in the aforementioned circles Samuel Pinkus is being hailed as a genius.