A Real Southern Alabama Courtroom Drama for “To Kill a Mockingbird”? Museum Blames Harper Lee’s “Greedy Handlers”

An ongoing dispute over the trademark rights to “To Kill a Mockingbird” has a new venue and a sympathetic defendant. Harper Lee’s attorneys filed a trademark infringement suit earlier this month in Mobile, Alabama’s federal district court against the Monroe County Heritage Museum.

According to the complaint, the museum uses tokillamockingbird.com as its web address, touts its building as the model for the novel’s courthouse, and uses the novel to sell unlicensed aprons, hand towels and keychains. Despite the museum’s claim that its purpose is historical, Lee’s attorneys say “its primary mission is to trade upon the fictional story, settings and characters that Harper Lee created in To Kill a Mockingbird, and Harper Lee’s own renown as one of the nation’s most celebrated authors.”

Lee is asking the court to stop the violations, award her money damages and force the museum to give up the tokillamockingbird.com domain name.

The museum’s attorney, Matthew I. Goforth, responded to the suit on Friday, claiming  “every single statement in the lawsuit is either false, meritless, or both.” He places the blame squarely with Harper Lee’s “greedy handlers” in a statement to ABCnews.com:

“It is sad that Harper Lee’s greedy handlers have seen fit to attack the non-profit museum in her hometown that has been honoring her legacy and the town’s rich history associated with that legacy for over 20 years,” Goforth, with Gordon, Dana, Knight & Gilmore, LLC.

Mr. Goforth doesn’t mention, as far as we can tell, that he filed an opposition to Harper Lee’s federal trademark application on behalf of the museum two months ago. Here’s Monroe County Heritage Museum v. Nelle Harper Lee, filed August 19, 2013:

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