To Judge a Book By Its Lawyer

Prayers and petitions were answered this week when the news broke Harper Lee would release a new book titled Go Set A Watchman. Not only is it a new book it is a sequel to the beloved tale of To Kill a Mockingbird. Excitement on social media ensued, including yours truly. As a rightfully raised southern Alabama girl, Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird is right up there with my Granmaw’s homemade divinity candy and Helen Keller. Just as quickly as the news broke, another story started to surface about possible undue influence from her attorney and skepticism as to whether the new book is actually hers.

Several news articles interviewed townspeople from Monroeville. The stories even sought out interviews from workers of the assisted living home where Ms. Lee now resides. Most pointed to the stroke she had several years ago. Her reclusive nature. The fact that, in the past, she has been taken advantage of. She often stated there would never be another book. Here are some links to the articles –  From Al.Com  and from The Atlantic  

Healthy skepticism is a good thing. However, based on intellectual property legal posturing starting to take place late in 2012, this usually skeptic person feels a bit of optimism. Before we start judging a book by its lawyer, let’s take a step back and look at the hard facts. My position is, unless proven otherwise, Harper Lee had all intentions, even as early as 2012, of releasing this book based on her filings with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

In early September 2013, I wrote how my late nights perusals of the United States Patent and Trademark Office found a trademark application filed by Ms. Lee for the phrase To Kill a Mockingbird. Ms. Lee filed the application in September 2012, back when her sister Alice was still alive and advising the author. You can see the filing HERE. Other filings related to the trademark showed opposition by Monroe County who had been profiting off of the phrase To Kill a Mockingbird for years on end. Luckily for Ms. Lee, she was successful and a decision was made that she was the rightful owner of the trademark around this time last year in February 2014. You can read both of the pieces To Kill a Trademark Registration and To Win a Mockingbird Lawsuit by clicking on those links.

The story presented in the news publications lacked facts. What are the qualifications of those people claiming she has dementia? Are they her doctors? Do they interact with her daily? One article is even titled “Hometown Friend Say Harper Lee Was Manipulated.”  I don’t know about you, but any “friend” of mine who would help a news entity create a news article based on speculation probably isn’t REALLY my friend.  Let’s talk about the assisted living home. A new book is a BIG deal for the tiny town and the residents of the assisted living home. Don’t the other residents have a right to quiet enjoyment and privacy? Finally, let’s look at the facts of what we know.

The facts show a filing with an intent to use in 2012. The facts show she planned, nearly 3 years before the release of the new book, to start monetizing the success from the book. While attorneys can have undue influence, I believe Ms. Lee, all along has known what she was doing. The United States Patent and Trademark Office does not lie.

In order for her to release a new book as a sequel to the first, it would be necessary for her to secure all intellectual property rights including the trademark. The social media landscape of promoting books has greatly changed since the release of the first book.  An author would certainly not want to release a second book knowing someone else might have claim to any part of the intellectual property collective. Owning and controlling the trademark in the first is necessary to fully realize the benefits of a sequel.

Finally, let’s examine the role the attorney is playing. Maybe her tactics seem a bit tough, but maybe she is doing everything within her power to fully protect her client. The attorney knows her client is a high-profile client and that the attorney’s actions would be up for critique. Why would she knowingly be so careless or risk her law license? I think it is easy for outsiders to point fingers and state it looks like undue influence, but we do not know what is really going on between the attorney/client privilege that exists. We do not really know the client’s wishes.

And, while she has stated she wouldn’t release another book in her lifetime, isn’t Ms. Lee allowed to change her mind? Isn’t it possible she would change her mind once she felt like she fully owned all intellectual property rights associated with the book? Many asked, “Why now after so many years,” when she filed the trademark in 2012. I think we found out why this week. Let’s exercise a little Scout optimism and be happy we will soon have a book by one of America’s most beloved authors.

What are your thoughts on the book? Take part in the Comments section below and Stay Tuned In!

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3 thoughts on “To Judge a Book By Its Lawyer

  1. Thank you!!! Thank you!!! THANK YOU!!! For writing this. We don’t know what we don’t know.

    I have never been a fan of – poor reporting and less than stellar writing. I read their article and got sucked into the local news vortex. I am so glad I read the article in The Atlantic. It was much more informative because they were honest about what they “didn’t know.”

    You are the only copyright knowledgeable person I know and the best person I know to write about this.

  2. Pingback: Entertainment and Intellectual Property Law for 2015, So Far … | Statute of RyAnne

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