To Kill a Mockingbird is recognized as one of the most popular and influential books for many legal professionals. The author, Harper Lee, has not published another novel for over 50 years, but she plans to continue to protect her best known intellectual property, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Harper Lee, who is 87 years old, has sued her hometown of Monroe County Heritage Museum for trademark infringement. It is said that the museum “[Seeks] to profit from the unauthorized use of the protected names and trademarks of ‘Harper Lee’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.”
What is trademark infringement?
It is a violation of the exclusive rights attaching to a trademark without authorization of the trademark owner or any licensees. When an infringement occurs, the trademark is used in an identical or confusingly similar manner by an “infringer”. If there is a chance a consumer can’t distinguish the difference between two similar products, then that is a case of trademark infringement.
The novel is based in the fictional Maycomb County, which is set in the segregated South during the 1930s. However, many readers believe the book was based on the county I in which she grew up in.
In the law suit, Lee points out that she understands her novel’s impact on the community. On the other hand, the town’s desire to capitalize on her novel’s fame is very evident. The Monroeville town logo features the image of a mockingbird, and the museum’s gift shop is called the “Bird’s Nest” where visitors can buy memorabilia, T-shirts, cookware, and the book. The museum also stages a “To Kill a Mockingbird” play each spring.
According to Lee’s attorney, they had previously tried to stop the museum from unauthorized commercial use of the novel. “Historical facts belong to the world, but fiction and trademarks are protected by law,” as stated in the lawsuit.
As of now, the current case is Lee v. Monroe County Heritage Museum, Inc. (Case No.: 1:13-cv-490).
Read our blog about the significance of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird on the legal professional community.