Harper Lee Property Instructed to Pay $2 Million in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Play Dispute

An arbitrator has ordered the property of the author Harper Lee to pay greater than $2.5 million in damages and costs to Dramatic Publishing, a theatrical publishing firm that has licensed a stage adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” for many years.

The ruling discovered that beneath strain from Scott Rudin, then lead producer of a unique adaptation of the guide, which was supposed for Broadway, the property interfered with Dramatic’s contracts, and tried to forestall some productions of the work.

The ruling, made in January, comes practically three years after Dramatic invoked an arbitration clause in its contract to forestall limits on productions of its adaptation.

Dramatic’s adaptation, by the playwright Christopher Sergel, has lengthy been a staple at faculties and group theaters across the nation. It’s the model of that has been staged yearly in Lee’s hometown, Monroeville, Ala. And for many years, Dramatic was the one writer Lee had licensed to license a theatrical adaptation of her beloved 1960 novel a couple of crusading lawyer named Atticus Finch who represents a Black man who’s unjustly accused of rape in a small city in Alabama.

Then, in 2018, Rudin introduced the brand new Aaron Sorkin adaptation to Broadway, the place it grew to become a field workplace hit.

Christopher Sergel III, president of Dramatic Publishing Firm and the grandson of the writer of the primary adaptation, claimed that the Lee property acted in live performance with Rudin to forestall some native productions of the play from going ahead. In cease-and-desist letters to native theaters, Rudin’s attorneys claimed that these productions had been now not permissible due to the Sorkin adaptation. Consequently, at the very least eight theaters canceled productions of Dramatic’s model of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“This has been a protracted and troublesome battle for Dramatic Publishing, exacerbated by the ravages of Covid on the theater business and academic system,” Sergel stated in a press release posted on the corporate’s web site. “Sadly, the Lee Property left us no selection however to struggle.”

Sergel stated his firm has been “totally vindicated” by the ruling, which was earlier reported by Broadway World.

The arbitrator dominated that the property had “tortiously interfered with contracts between Dramatic and a number of other of its licensees” and that “most, however not all, violations resulted from the property’s interactions with Rudin.” It additionally said that Dramatic retains “worldwide unique rights to all non-first-class theater or stage rights for its model of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“For Dramatic Publishing to have been dragged by way of the mud for licensing the play within the very promote it had licensed it in for years was actually very troubling,” stated Kevin Tottis, a lawyer representing Dramatic.

The Lee Property has filed a movement to overturn the arbitration award in federal courtroom in Chicago, in response to Matthew H. Lembke, a lawyer representing the property. Some portion of the arbitrator’s ruling coated damages, however the bulk, greater than $2 million, is to reimburse for Dramatic’s authorized charges and different prices to pursue the arbitration.

Lee, who died in 2016, typically expressed ambivalence in regards to the Sergel adaptation, which was revealed in 1970. In a 1987 letter, Lee stated Sergel’s adaptation “admirably fulfills the aim for which it was written, for novice, highschool and little theater teams, and inventory productions.” However she declined Dramatic’s request to stage a Broadway adaptation of Sergel’s play, and held onto these rights till 2015, when she entered a contract for a Broadway manufacturing with Rudin.

The friction between Harper Lee’s representatives and Dramatic Publishing started to escalate in 2015, after Lee licensed Rudin’s Broadway manufacturing. Rudin requested a lawyer for the Lee property to implement an settlement with Dramatic publishing that Rudin argued restricted them to novice productions. The property’s lawyer initially replied that Dramatic held “every thing however first-class manufacturing rights,” which means that they might stage their model in regional, noncommercial theaters in addition to in faculties and novice theaters. He later reversed his place and maintained that Dramatic had no proper to license productions with any skilled actors, a shift that the arbitrator traced to the strain the property confronted from Rudin. A lawyer for the property additionally informed Dramatic that a number of productions, which the property had beforehand authorised, violated the 1969 contract and couldn’t be staged.

The struggle burst into public view not lengthy after the Broadway opening of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which starred Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch. The property despatched a number of letters to the writer disputing its granting of rights to quite a few theaters and famous that the 1969 contract with Harper Lee said that whereas a “first-class dramatic play” based mostly on the novel is taking part in in New York or on tour, Dramatic’s model can’t be staged inside 25 miles of cities with a inhabitants of 150,000 or extra in 1960. It additionally argued that Dramatic didn’t have the rights to license any productions with skilled actors, a declare that the arbitrator dismissed.

Attorneys for Rudin despatched stop and desist letters to small theaters across the nation — together with the Kavinoky Theater in Buffalo, the Oklahoma Youngsters’s Theater and the Mugford Road Gamers in Marblehead, Mass. — threatening them with authorized motion except they halted their productions. Many canceled their exhibits, and Rudin confronted criticism for interfering with native theaters.

In a stunning about face, Rudin later apologized to the theaters, and stated that theater corporations that had canceled the play might as an alternative stage Aaron Sorkin’s model of the script.

Earlier than the property and Rudin challenged the native theaters collectively, that they had gone by way of a dispute of their very own over the play. The property sued him, asserting Sorkin’s adaptation deviated an excessive amount of from the novel, in violation of their contract; Rudin countersued and provided to stage his play in entrance of the decide to show his case.

The dispute was settled, and the present went on to develop into a industrial and significant hit. Rudin stepped again from energetic producing final Could after he was accused of bullying and office misconduct; Orin Wolf grew to become government producer and Barry Diller lead producer to supervise the manufacturing.

In January, its producers introduced that they’d shut down the present and reopen in a smaller theater. A North American tour and a London manufacturing are each scheduled to start in March.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/10/theater/harper-lee-to-kill-a-mockingbird.html Harper Lee Property Instructed to Pay $2 Million in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Play Dispute

Fry Electronics Team

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