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Harper Lee's Estate Sues Over Broadway Musical Adaptation

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By Ceylan Pumphrey, Esq. on March 16, 2018 3:56 PM

Copyright protects original works of authorship, such as literary works. This protection is in place so that an author can protect his or her work from being used by someone else without permission. Of course, an author can always allow others to use the work, although he or she will usually do so through a contract, which can limit how the work may be used as well as ensure the integrity of the work.

In 2015, Harper Lee signed a contract with Rudinplay, a production company, to allow the company to adapt her book To Kill a Mockingbird into a play. However, Lee's estate has sued the production company to determine who exactly has the final authority in determining if the Broadway adaptation is consistent with the original spirit of the book.

Keeping the Book's Spirit Intact

The lawsuit filed by the estate representative, Tonja Carter, is seeking a declaratory judgment that determining whether or not the Broadway adaptation keeps with the original spirit of the book is not up to the production company. Two clauses from the contract signed by Lee are cited in the lawsuit. One clause indicates that the play "shall not derogate or depart in any manner from the spirit of the novel nor alter its characters." The second clause states that Lee "shall have the right to review the script of the play and to make comments which shall be considered in good faith by the playwright."

Carter previously expressed concern about the depiction of Atticus in the adaptation. She wrote a letter to the production company saying that the play depicts Atticus as rude, selfish, and less dignified. In response, the production company's lawyer sent a letter stating that the adaptation didn't depart from the spirit of the book, but if it did, all the estate could do was discuss its concerns.

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