Battle Between Harper Lee and her Hometown Museum over Use of “To Kill A Mockingbird”

by Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A.

Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.

—Harper Lee,  To Kill a Mockingbird

Time will tell if this quote applies to author Nelle Harper Lee’s (“Ms. Lee’s”) battles with her hometown museum—the  Monroe County Heritage Museum (the “Museum”) over use of “TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD” and “HARPER LEE” in connection with clothing and gift items.

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in I enjoyed reading To Kill a Mockingbird as a teenager.  Then, I had the pleasure of watching Gregory Peck’s performance as the lead character Atticus Finch in the movie adaptation.  Atticus Finch was voted the greatest screen hero of all time by the American Film Institute two weeks before Mr. Peck’s death in 2003.

There has been a lot of legal activity in connection with Ms. Lee, her book title and trademark applications filed for “TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.”  For instance, Ms. Lee filed a trademark application for use of “TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD” in connection with “printed matter, namely books” on September 12, 2012.  An Office Action refused to register the applied-for mark because it was “used only as the title of a single creative work, namely, the title of a specific book; it does not function as a trademark to identify and distinguish applicant’s goods from those of others and to indicate the source of applicant’s goods.”  Trademark Act Sections 1, 2, and 45, 15 U.S.C. §§1051-1052, 1127 (citations omitted).  On July 5, 2013, Ms. Lee expressly abandoned this application.

In February 2013, Ms. Lee filed an application to use the mark for “Clothing for men, women and children, namely T-shirts, hats, jackets.” The Museum filed a Notice of Opposition against this application in August alleging, among other things, that it had been using the mark continuously in connection with clothing and gift shop items under the mark TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for years (examples below):

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.”  Ms. Lee resides not far from the Museum and its gift shop.  The Museum alleged that Ms. Harper committed fraud on the United States Patent and Trademark Office by submitting a declaration that stated that she was not aware of anyone else having the right to use the mark in commerce (this would include selling clothing and gifts in a museum gift shop) that would be likely to cause confusion.  In support of its allegation, the Museum included the fact that Ms. Lee had met with Oscar-winning actress Patricia Neal when she performed Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” at the Museum in November 2008.  At that time, Ms. Lee toured the exhibit about herself.  The gift shop is prominently located near the main entrance to the Museum.

Last week, Ms. Lee sued the Museum in Federal Court, arguing that the book title is registered with the State of Alabama and that she has common law trademark protection in both her name “Harper Lee” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  She brought various claims in the lawsuit relating to trademark infringement, false origin, likelihood of confusion, trademark dilution, right of publicity and unfair competition.  The next move in the lawsuit belongs to the Museum.

Ms. Lee is no stranger to the courts.  She recently settled her dispute against her former literary agent and other defendants over her alleged deprivation of royalties from her book.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A. | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A.

Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A. on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.