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Dramatic Publishing Claims Victory in To Kill a Mockingbird Arbitration

The play-licensing and theatrical publishing company has been in a years-long dispute with the Harper Lee estate.

In May 2021, Stirling Players of Perth, Australia, presented Christopher Sergel's To Kill a Mockingbird, which was licensed through Dramatic Publishing Company.
(© Stirling Players)

Christopher Sergel III, president of Dramatic Publishing Company (DPC), has claimed victory in arbitration against the Harper Lee estate.

The dispute centered on DPC's right to license productions of Christopher Sergel's 1970 stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird to schools and community theaters (Sergel was the grandfather of DPC's current president). While this right was exercised without incident in the four decades following the publication of the Sergel script, it became a problem when the Broadway producers of Aaron Sorkin's new stage adaptation, led by Scott Rudin, began threatening community theaters with cease and desist letters.

In March 2019, DPC filed an arbitration claim against the Lee estate for violating the terms of a 1969 agreement. The arbitrator ruled in DPC's favor in October 2021, finding that the theatrical publisher "has worldwide exclusive rights to all non-first-class theater or stage rights in To Kill a Mockingbird."

The arbitrator awarded DPC $185,227 in damages and ordered Harper Lee LLC to pay the company over $2.5 million in costs and attorneys' fees stemming from the arbitration.

You can read the full ruling here.

UPDATE (2/11/2022): According to a report in the New York Times, the Lee estate has filed a motion in a federal court in Chicago to have the arbitration award overturned.