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Woodstock's Dramatic Publishing Company defends 'To Kill a Mockingbird' licensing rights

Harper Lee, author of "To Kill a Mockingbird," smiles during a ceremony honoring the four new members of the Alabama Academy of Honor on Aug. 20, 2007, at the state Capitol in Montgomery, Ala.
Harper Lee, author of "To Kill a Mockingbird," smiles during a ceremony honoring the four new members of the Alabama Academy of Honor on Aug. 20, 2007, at the state Capitol in Montgomery, Ala.

Woodstock-based Dramatic Publishing Company, 311 Washington St., has issued a statement regarding the clash over the rights to “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Dozens of community and nonprofit theaters across the U.S. in February were forced to abandon productions of “To Kill a Mockingbird” under legal threat by Broadway and Hollywood producer Scott Rudin.

Rudin is arguing that author Harper Lee gave him exclusive worldwide rights to the title of the novel and that Rudin’s current adaptation on Broadway – written by Aaron Sorkin – is the only version allowed to be performed.

That means different adaptations have had to be shutdown, including the version written by Christopher Sergel and licensed by the Dramatic Publishing Company.

Dramatic Publishing Company President Christopher Sergel III said in a statement earlier this month that Rudin’s claims have no merit.

“Fifty years ago, my grandfather, Christopher Sergel, agreed to a deal with Harper Lee and her agent whereby he would dramatize – and Dramatic Publishing would publish and license his adaptation of – ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ ” Christopher Sergel III said. “Recently, those rights have been the subject of speculation and erroneous interpretation by both Scott Rudin and the Lee estate.”

Christopher Sergel IIl said Lee read and approved the Dramatic Publishing adaptation. The company is seeking a resolution to the argument through binding arbitration with a firm in Chicago, he said. Lee died at age 89 in February 2016.

“All licenses granted by Dramatic Publishing are valid,” he said. “Any special clearances required were received directly from the estate’s representative. We feel horribly for those affected by the shameful bigfooting coming from Mr. Rudin.”

After the backlash, Rudin said theater companies could perform the play as long as it was the Sorkin version.

“We hate to ask anybody to cancel any production of a play anywhere, but the productions in question as licensed by [Dramatic Publishing] infringe on rights licensed to us by Harper Lee directly,” he said. “The Sergel play can contractually continue to be performed under set guidelines as described in detail in its own agreement with Harper Lee – and as long as those guidelines are adhered to, we have no issue with the play having a long life.”

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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