Saturday, April 30, 2011

Author of Memoir About Harper Lee Insists She Had Lee’s Cooperation

By JULIE BOSMAN 04/30/11 New York Times

The writer of a coming book about the ever-private Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” insisted on Friday that she had the cooperation of Ms. Lee, two days after Ms. Lee released a statement through her lawyer, sharply denying it.

Marja Mills, a former reporter for The Chicago Tribune who sold the book to the Penguin Press, said in an e-mail sent by her publisher that “Harper Lee, known as Nelle to many of her friends, and her sister, Alice Lee, were wonderfully generous with their time and insights over the years as I researched my book.”

“Alice Lee signed this statement,” the e-mail continued, “affirming she and her sister, Nelle Harper Lee, cooperated with the project.”

Tracy Locke, vice president and associate publisher at the Penguin Press, also forwarded a letter, dated March 20 and signed by Alice Lee, confirming that she and her sister had participated in, and cooperated with, the project.

The statement did little to clear up the confusion surrounding the book, “The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee.” It was announced on Tuesday as “the story of Mills’s friendship with the two women, recounting all the Lee sisters have to say about their life in Alabama, their upbringing, how ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ impacted their lives, and why Harper Lee chose to never write another novel.” Penguin Press promised that the book was written with “direct access to Harper and Alice Lee.”

Ms. Mills lived next door to the sisters in Monroeville, Ala., for at least one year, her publisher said, and traveled frequently to the town for more than a decade. She wrote a 6,000-word article for The Tribune in 2002 that chronicled Harper Lee’s life in Alabama, with interviews from family members and friends. (Harper Lee had declined to comment for that article.)

One day after Ms. Mills’s book deal was announced, Harper Lee issued a curt response through her lawyer, saying that she had not “willingly participated in any book written or to be written by Marja Mills.”

She continued: “Neither have I authorized such a book. Any claims otherwise are false.”

Ms. Lee, who typically makes no public comments about anything that is written about her, has said nothing publicly since Wednesday, and there was no response to a message left at her lawyer’s office on Friday.

Ms. Locke of Penguin said she could not “speak directly” to Harper Lee’s statement, “as it was not sent to us, and we’re unfamiliar with the circumstances under which it was released.”

“But we do not feel that it trumps the letter we have in our possession,” she said, “which is signed by Alice Lee.” That letter “clearly confirms her and her sister Harper Lee’s support of Marja Mills’s memoir.”

In the 108-page book proposal written by Ms. Mills, she recounts her time living next door to the Lee sisters: “Over coffee at McDonald’s, on long twisting drives through the Alabama countryside, at barbecue dinners with her and her friends and during low-kicking mornings in exercise class, I got a long, slow, steady look at the world’s most famous literary recluse, a woman whose mysterious renunciation of fame perversely brought more of it down on her head than she ever dreamed of, or certainly ever wanted.”

Harper Lee, who has not granted a public interview in 45 years, turned 85 on Thursday. Her sister is 99.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dreaming of a Virtual Library: Authors Guild v. Google

Dreaming of a Virtual Library: Authors Guild v. Google
Published: April 6, 2011

Your March 31 editorial “Google’s Book Deal” correctly points out that the landmark settlement between the company and authors and publishers would have “given new life to millions of half-forgotten titles collecting dust in out-of-the-way libraries.” But your discussion omitted several crucial aspects of the case.

We have a fundamental disagreement with Google: we believe that without first obtaining permission, Google is prohibited from copying books for commercial purposes. That’s why we sued. Judge Denny Chin, who faulted Google for “wholesale, blatant copying” without permission, seems to agree.

The settlement was crafted to bridge the broad divides among the stakeholders in the negotiations — authors, publishers, research libraries and Google. It would have provided financial benefits to authors of out-of-print books and made available a vast virtual library of those books.

Critically, when it came to “orphan works,” it would have collected and escrowed funds for authors (or their successors or estates). And it would have empowered any copyright holder to compel Google to remove or never scan his or her works without having to go to court.

We could have simply refused to recommend settlement and pressed our original demand that Google withdraw all its copyrighted material. Instead, we chose to propose an agreement that would benefit authors, publishers and readers.

The dream of a virtual library of out-of-print books is dead, for now. Perhaps a legislative route may be found instead; we hope that the settlement shows how it can be done.

President, Authors Guild
Chicago, April 4, 2011

A version of this letter appeared in print on April 7, 2011, on page A26 of the New York edition.