May 21, 2014

Museum souvenirs that upset Harper Lee

by

If your internet travels have guided you to tokillamockingbird.com lately, you know that the site is automatically rerouted to the Monroe County Heritage Museum‘s new domain name, monroecountymuseum.org. That’s because the Museum is in a lawsuit with the author they’re set up to celebrate. Harper Lee has canceled her settlement with the Heritage Museum this week.

The fictional village of Maycomb so charmed its readers that many have made pilgrimages to Lee’s real hometown: Monroeville, Alabama. The Heritage Museum has embraced the book wholeheartedly, and annual merchandise sales are a reported $500,000 as recently as 2011.

In the past, Lee brought various claims in the lawsuit relating to trademark infringement, false origin, likelihood of confusion, trademark dilution, right of publicity and unfair competition. That includes the coasters, aprons, and other tchotchkes sold in the Museum store.

The Museum states that it “maintains and operates six historic sites in Monroe County, Alabama, in an effort to preserve the area’s rich history, including the area’s connection to the literacy legacy of both Truman Capote and … Harper Lee.”

It’s been a big legal year for Lee. She sued her literary agent for “duping” her out of the rights to To Kill A Mockingbird, reached a settlement in federal courts, made an ebook deal, turned eighty-eight, and is now looking

US District Judge William Steele told Norman Stockman, Lee’s lawyer, that he needs find out whether a settlement agreement was signed in February, according to the BBC. Lee will have to take separate legal action if any documents were signed.

I’ve never made it to the Monroe County Heritage Museum, and was curious how you monetize a book with so few commercial props. What do they sell, Indian pennies? T-shirts? Yes and yes. The store has been taken offline, but here’s a small collection of To Kill A Mockingbird-themed souvenirs that could be in violation of copyright.

 

Kirsten Reach was an editor at Melville House.

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