If you know me at all in real life beyond the little ones and zeroes that bring us together here, you know my all-time favorite book ever is Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. This is one of those books that had a profound impact on my soul when I read it at 11 years old.
So, today, I was disheartened to learn there is a museum in Lee’s small Alabama town, The Monroe County Heritage Museum in Monroeville, that has been promoting itself off her name for years and Ms. Lee has never seen one single dime in royalties.
Certainly, we have become nearly numb to the ways in which musicians and artists lose their rightful royalties due to the muddy waters of streaming media. But – and I am far from a copyright attorney here – this seems as crystal clear as … well, crystal.
Harper Lee wrote To Kill A Mockingbird. And, yet, The Monroe County Heritage Museum not only sells cups and shirts and souvenirs using her name and the name of her seminal work, they even go so far as to use http://www.tokillamockingbird.com as their URL!
Lee’s attorney, Robert Clarida, said the 87-year-old author, who lives in Monroeville, has never received a penny from the museum’s sale of TKAM souvenirs.
“They want to continue selling the merchandise without Ms. Lee getting any money.”
Museum Director Stephanie Rogers said Lee’s book drives tourism in the rural south Alabama county and that the museum has always been supportive of Lee.
“I feel like all we do is honor her here.”
The organization’s attractions include the old county courthouse housing the courtroom that served as the model for the movie, which draws 25,000 to 30,000 visitors annually and features a display that tells Lee’s story in her own words. In April and May, it will present its 25th annual production of the play, To Kill a Mockingbird. Rogers said the museum pays royalties to produce the play, but it has never paid for selling the souvenirs. She said tourists want a memento of their visit, and the proceeds are the key to museum’s continued operation and its educational programs.
WHEN DOES FLATTERY BECOME THEFT?
Now, I realize this has nothing to do with social media marketing. But, the idea that an organization can market itself entirely around someone else’s brand, even going so far as to use the book’s title as their URL should make every marketer shudder.
This would be the equivalent of me saying: I honor Apple products by selling the Apple logo on shirts and coffee mugs and using AppleProducts.com as my URL and I expect the brand to thank me for it.
I’m sure the museum is lovely. I’m sure the people behind the museum have only the best intentions. But, like it or not To Kill A Mockingbird is a global brand name and – from a marketing perspective – there is only one person who has the rights to that name, Ms. Harper Lee. Here’s hoping the parties involved agree on that – and if they don’t, the courts surely will.
In the meantime, I suggest Ms. Rogers ask herself one simple question: What Would Atticus Do?
Let me know what you think. Does the museum have the right to market itself off Ms. Lee’s brand?