Harper Lee's Hometown Museum Fires Back at 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Author

Lee's complaint argues that her book title has built enough common law protection that it can't be used by the museum without her permission.

There are at least three important issues in the litigation, according to Leigh Ann Lindquist, an attorney specializing in trademark and copyright law with Sughrue Mion, PLLC, a law firm that is not involved in this dispute. The first is the parties' past relationship, if any. The second is how long the museum has been selling the clothing and gift store items with "To Kill a Mockingbird" on them. The third issue in litigation will likely be when Lee first knew about the sale of these museum items.

"And, of course, the court will have to decide what trademark rights Ms. Lee has in the marks," Lindquist said.

Lee said in the lawsuit that the museum "intentionally sells its goods and services by unauthorized use of the 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and Harper Lee marks and names."

The lawsuit claimed the museum is violating federal trademark infringement laws and federal law of unfair competition, and other laws.

One of the examples that Lee provides in the lawsuit of unauthorized use of her name in museum marketing materials says, "Restored to its 1930s appearance, our courtroom is the model for Harper Lee's fictional courtroom settings in 'To Kill A Mockingbird.' It's now one of the most recognized courtrooms in America because of the popular film version of the book."

"Historical facts belong to the world, but fiction and trademarks are protected by law," the complaint says. "The museum has steadfastly ignored Ms. Lee's demands that it cease and desist from its illegal action. The museum has even attempted to block Ms. Lee's federal registration of her trademark in 'To Kill a Mockingbird.'"

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