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Recent and Pending Legal Matters Affecting the Literary World

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To Kill a Mockingbird Author Sues Agent

Harper Lee, now 87, is know to most every High School Student in the country even though she only published one work, a story that that centers around a courtroom trial entitled To Kill a Mockingbird.  The work came out in 1960, and was adapted made into a film in 1962. Now, more than 5 decades later, Lee may find herself in a real courtroom. She is accusing her literary agent, Samuel Pinkus, of collecting royalties for her work. In 2007, Lee had a stroke and she doesn’t recall signing her copyright in the book to her agent. Instead of rape and racial injustice, Lee v. Pinkus will center around fiduciary duties, and contract and copyright law.

Lee is represented by Gloria Phares, Partner with Patterson Belknap Webb and Tyler, LLP.

Case: Lee v. Pinkus, 13-3000, U.S. District Court, 

U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

Title Dispute over the Kafka-Brod Papers

Max Brod and Franz Kafka, 1911.

Last October, an Israeli Judge Talia Kopelman Pardo ruled that documents written by Franz Kafka (1883-1924) and Max Brod (1984-1968) must be given to the Israel’s national library. Parties in the case are the Israeli government and a daughter of Brods former secretary. The contested collection contains writings by Brod, a journalist, a novelist and an administrator of Kafka’s estate as well as letters, sketches and diaries by Kafka, a highly influential and respected German-language writer.

The documents arrived in Tel Aviv in 1939, when Brod fled Prague before World War II. At his death Brod left all of his possessions to his secretary, Esther Hoffe. It was reported that the last time the materials were accessible to scholars was in the 1980s.  Instead of studying the collection, Hoffe family is viewing this collection as a treasure trove. In 1988, Hoffe sold one of the Kafka’s manuscripts in her possession for $2 million. She is survived by daughters who are trying to lay claim to the Brod-Kafka materials. However, in the 2012 opinion, J. Pardo held that the collection was left to Hoffe as a trust to be administered according to Mr. Brods’ wishes. Namely, that his archive be presented to a “public Jewish library or archive in Palestine,” later identified as Hebrew University.

Hoffe’s claim of ownership is supported by the German Literary Archive, which may wish to purchase the papers. In general, the scholarly community is divided whether the papers belong in Israel or in Germany. The J. Kopelman Pardo’s decision is still subject to an appeal.

It is not Elementary: Dispute over Licensing Fees for “Sherlock Holmes”   

On February 14, 2013, a Sherlock Holmes scholar, Leslie S. Klinger, filed a complaint against the Arthur Conan Doyle Ltd., a company owned by the Conan Doyle family for wrongfully demanding licensing fee for novels and stories already in public domain. The case is under review by the federal court in Illinois.

In the complaint, Klinger, editor of the Annotated Sherlock Holmes, and other Holmes-related works, alleges that often, licensing fees paid to the Conan Doyle family are unnecessary because many characters and elements of the stories are no longer covered by the United States copyright law. Until recently, Klinger himself has paid fees but he thought “enough [was] enough.” Thus he is seeking a declaratory judgment for all to enjoy, that the basic “Sherlock Holmes story elements” are in the public domain. Apparently he is not challenging the fact that Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. is “the sole and exclusive owner” of the material that remains under copyright until 2023.

Leslie S. Klinger is represented by Scott M. Gilbert and Kourtney A. Mulcahy of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP.

Sources: NYTimes (May 6, 2013); Jspace;  Boston Globe; NYTimes (February 15, 2013).