Monroeville, Alabama is like any other small Alabama town except for one thing.
The Monroe County Old Courthouse Museum. It’s built around a refurbished version of the courtroom where Atticus Finch mesmerized a nation.
There are exhibits on Harper Lee and her famous friend, Truman Capote, also from Monroeville. The museum reels in tourists who spend money in the gift shop, hotels and restaurants. Especially the museum gift shop,The Bird’s Nest, where Mockingbird merchandise flies out the door.
Townspeople in the Courthouse Cafe and Radley’s Fountain Grille are scratching their heads these days over a lawsuit filed by Harper Lee.
Ms. Lee contends that the museum is stealing and profiting from her ideas. The complaint filed states that “historical facts belong to the world, but fiction and trademarks are protected by law.”
I’m not a lawyer but I do know that literary lawsuits usually allege violations of copyright, meaning the text itself. Ms. Lee’s suit says that the museum is infringing on her trademarks. One of her demands is that the museum not market any products based on her book, like Calpurnia’s Cookbook and an assortment of trinkets.
The museum is fighting to stay open for now but if Lee wins the lawsuit, it could be forced to close its doors.
I googled Harper Lee. (photo 2007) She suffered a stroke and is in ill health, living in Monroeville in an assisted-living facility. And she is not backing down.
Harper Lee is writing a new story about injustice in the South. It’s about T-shirts and tote bags. Or is it? Is it a squabble over a few thousand dollars in our litigious culture? Or is the museum raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars on unlicensed packages of Mockingbird Lemonade Mix?
That’s for the court to decide. Until then, what do you think? Should Harper Lee should just kick back in her twilight years and enjoy the kudos she earned? Or are you thinking, more power to you, Harper Lee, protect your trademark text? Or is it just another author behaving badly?
LEE LOVED AND STILL LOVES MONROEVILLE, HER HOME FOR HER ENTIRE LIFE. IT SEEMS ODD TO ME, EVEN SUSPICIOUS, THAT, IN HER LATE 80S, SHE SUDDENLY THINKS IT’S TIME FOR THE COUNTY MUSEUM TO PAY UP OR CLOSE UP.
Where’s Atticus when you need him?
Remember, it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. And a museum.
- Mockingbird Author Harper Lee Sues Museum Over Trademark (blogs.lawyers.com)