Zachary Hiller Law To Kill a Mocking Bird

Is all art simply a commodity to be bought and sold, garnering a profit for those who know how? Who are the true beneficiaries of copyright law? Some are saying, corporations, which continue to profit from other’s intellectual property after the creator of a successful piece passes on. A recent LA Times article discusses the case with To Kill a Mockingbird and copyright law that sheds a little light on this theory.

Copyright law has been rewritten in the United States many times to extend the length of the creators and their families rights to their work. Creators are promised enough money to give them an incentive to create and live, but that’s a means to an end if the copyright is only theirs for so long.

Does a Creative Work’s Copyright Die With The Creator?

So, if you are an author, for example, how do you know your work is going to be protected even after your death? I’ll go into the recent To Kill a Mocking Bird case as an example. The cTo Kill a Mocking Bird Law Offices of Zachary Hiller Houston, TXopyright history of Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird is a long one. In 2013, Lee  sued her literary agent, claiming that he had taken advantage of her ailments in 2007 to trick her into assigning him the rights to the book. She regained the rights in 2013, but Harper’s lawyers claimed her agent was still making a profit off royalties.

That lawsuit was settled out of court in 2013 and followed by Lee’s only other published work, Go Set a Watchman. Following the author’s death at the age of 89 on Feb. 19, 2016, the Harper Lee estate has eliminated the mass-market edition of To Kill a Mockingbird that was listed at $8.99 by its publisher Hachette Book Group. This is the edition that almost everyone knows, the one we all grew up with.

According to a March 4, 2016, notice permission for the mass-market edition was withdrawn by the novel’s publisher, HarperCollins. Hachette can sell off its remaining copies, and then will be available chiefly in a HarperCollins trade paperback edition, which lists for $14.99, a price too expensive for most schools, family’s and bookstores. It seems the only win in this situation is for the corporation.

To Kill a Mockingbird is not the first classic book to have publication moved away from mass-market editions, for example, The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath are no also longer offered in mass-market editions. A judge in Alabama sealed Lee’s will from public view in February 2016. Unless the will is unsealed, Lee’s final wishes surrounding To Kill a Mockingbird will remain a mystery.

The problem with changes like these is they may stifle creativity rather than support. Sometimes copyright law can leave the control of creative works in the hands of people who may not share the desires or intentions of the works’ creators.

While all art and work lives in the creations of the maker,  should their intentions be considered as part of the piece? One should also ask, how long should a creation stay locked up once an artist has passed? At the end of the day, this highlights the nuance and challenges that face artists in the realm of copyright law. Far better to work with an expert to help explain these nuances as you copyright your creative pieces.

Share your thoughts with us on creative works and copyright law on our Facebook page. If you have any questions about copyright law and your latest work, please contact me at Zachary Hiller Law.

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