Thursday, October 17, 2013

Harper Lee Sues Hometown Museum for Exploiting 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee is back in court.

Only weeks ago, the 87-year-old writer settled a dispute with her former agent over an alleged "scheme to dupe" her into assigning the valuable copyright to her book. Now, she's alleging that a museum in her hometown of Monroe County, Ala., is exploiting her trademark and personality rights.

The lawsuit filed in Alabama federal court targets the Monroe County Heritage Museum.

According to the complaint, "The town’s desire to capitalize upon the fame of To Kill a Mockingbird is unmistakable: Monroeville’s town logo features an image of a mockingbird and the cupola of the Old County Courthouse, which was the setting for the dramatic trial in To Kill a Mockingbird."

The museum is reported to have generated more than $500,000 in revenue in 2011, and Lee objects to claims made in IRS documents that its mission is "historical."

"Its actual work does not touch upon history," says the lawsuit. "Rather, its primary mission is to trade upon the fictional story, settings and characters that Harper Lee created in To Kill a Mockingbird, and Harper Lee's own renown as one of the nation's most celebrated authors."

It's not often that a celebrity picks a legal war over a hometown institution that aims to profit on the back of a local icon. "Historical facts belong to the world," notes the lawsuit, "but fiction and trademarks are protected by law."

In Lee's 1960 book, the small-town lawyer character Atticus Finch defends an African-American man accused of rape. Among the alleged unauthorized uses of her trademark is the way the museum is advertising its venue: "Restored to its 1930s appearance, our courtroom is the model for Harper Lee’s fictional courtroom settings in To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s now one of the most recognized courtrooms in America because of the popular film version of the book.”

The museum (website: is said to be selling aprons, T-shirts, fleece vests, onesies, hand towels, soaps, wine bags, magnets, glassware, bookmarks, beverage huggers and more.

Lee stops short of saying she's selling any of these commercial items herself. But she leaves open the possibility. According to the complaint (read in full here), "It was likely that, when Defendant began its use of the words, terms and name 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and 'Harper Lee,' long after Plaintiff’s marks and names had become famous, that the Plaintiff was already likely to enter those fields."

The author has attempted trademark registrations on To Kill a Mockingbird, and has been opposed by the Monroe County Heritage Museum. Lee says the attempts to cancel her trademark have been made in "bad faith" and goes so far as to claim that "Defendant knowingly withheld material information from the [Trademark Trials and Appeals] Board that it had made material statements to Plaintiff and to third parties that are inconsistent with the Defendant’s claim of senior rights in the mark."

Lee also accuses the museum and its attorney of lying to the media. After a Reuters article appeared about the fight at the trademark office, the museum's lawyer is alleged to have pushed for a correction to make clear it was not refusing to share profits with Lee.

"The correction was incorrect," says the lawsuit. "In correspondence dated June 6, 2013, Defendant’s counsel demanded a 'royalty-free' license as a condition of not opposing Ms. Lee’s application for registration of her trademark and on August 1, 2013 refused Ms. Lee’s offer to sell authorized merchandise to Defendant. The Defendant steadfastly refused, saying that 'the museum is not going to purchase its TKAM merchandise from Ms. Lee'; it falsely denied this behavior when asked about it by the press."

Lee won't be denied satisfaction in court just because of her age.

"Ms. Lee suffered a stroke and is in ill health," says the lawsuit. "The Defendant apparently believes that she lacks the desire to police her trademarks, and therefore seeks to take advantage of Ms. Lee’s condition and property. The Defendant is mistaken."

"I have not read it and not been served," says Stephanie Rogers, the museum's executive director. "The museum has been doing what we always have done. We honor her here. We don't sell anything with her name. We sell memorabilia to those who come to see a production of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' that we secure dramatic rights to. Everything we do is above board. I'm shocked by this."


Twitter: @eriqgardner

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Samsung's Galaxy S4 Zoom leaked for AT&T

Samsung's Galaxy S4 Zoom leaked for AT&T

Itching for a better smartphone camera, but can't afford to buy an unlocked device? You're in luck: Samsung's Galaxy S4 Zoom appears to be coming to AT&T. Images of the AT&T branded smart camera (complete with carrier identification and official apps) appeared on Twitter today, hinting that a AT&T subsidized version of the device could be forthcoming. The 16-megapixel Zoom is an intriguing mash up between the Galaxy Camera and the Galaxy S4 Mini, but unless Ma Bell has made some major tweaks to the device, we wouldn't run out to your local AT&T store: the original was kind of a mess.

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Photo(s) of the Day: Great Moments in Republican Rebranding (Little green footballs)

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hitch a ride to Engadget Expand aboard Gogo's private jet

The team at Gogo is flying high lately both in the sky and on the ground thanks to its new hybrid GTO technology, which brings in-air download speeds up to 60 Mbps. To test the future of in-flight WiFi, Gogo uses the "Gogo One," a flying laboratory that comes outfitted with some pretty intense ...

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Innovation: A Portable Generator Charges Devices With Fire

The FlameStower can charge USB-powered devices with fire.

Courtesy of FlameStower

The FlameStower can charge USB-powered devices with fire.

Courtesy of FlameStower

In our Weekly Innovation blog series, we explore an interesting idea, design or product that you may not have heard of yet. Do you have an innovation to share? Use this quick form to send it to us.

Hikers and campers can now keep their cameras charged with FlameStower, which uses heat from a campfire, stove or even candles to charge any device powered by a USB connection. While this can seem superfluous — powering up while getting away from it all — creators Andrew Byrnes and Adam Kell says the device can also bring power to people in developing countries where wireless technology has leapfrogged others, places where people have cellphones but not electricity.

Byrnes and Kell were both studying materials science at Stanford University and at first thought about a generator wired to a toaster, but they quickly dismissed that idea. They spoke to a business school professor, who told them something that's been their guiding principle since — build something that can cook a pot of rice and charge a cellphone at the same time.

The technology is fairly simple. The FlameStower has a blade that extends out over the fire, while the other end is cooled by a reservoir of water. That means one part of the blade is hotter than the other. The temperature difference generates electricity, and semiconductors amplify the voltage to a useful amount. It gives you the same charge as connecting your phone to a laptop. The Mars Curiosity Rover uses the same technology, though its heat source comes from decaying radioactive materials.

This phenomenon of heat to electricity is called the Seebeck effect, and it doesn't generate a lot of energy, which means it wasn't that useful until people started walking around with cameras and smartphones.

"Now you have these tools that are insanely powerful, and increasingly are stingy on their energy use, so that value of the low amount of electricity is getting higher," Byrnes says.

He and Kell want to bring the FlameStower not only to stores in the U.S. but to developing countries as well. Kell recently returned from a trip to rural Kenya and Ethiopia to refine the FlameStower for users there, because around 65 percent of people in Africa have cellphones, but only 42 percent have electricity.

"[The cellphone] has been the first technology that people in rural villages are actually buying," Kell says.

Kell says products sold in developing countries are usually made to be cheaper than their counterparts in the U.S., with the exception of energy, which is much more expensive and less reliable.

Kell and Byrnes aren't the only people to come up with something like this. The BioLite CampStove and PowerPot are both pots that will charge a device and cook your food or boil water at the same time. But Kell says they weren't as successful in developing countries because people there often want to use their own pots, so the FlameStower founders made something that can work on any stove or fire.

At the moment a FlameStower costs $80, and the project is being funded on Kickstarter until late October.

Alan Yu is a Kroc fellow at NPR.

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The Future 140: How to Pre-Schedule Your Most Important Tweets

The Future 140: How to Pre-Schedule Your Most Important Tweets
This week, Twitter gave users the ability to draft or schedule tweets using its web interface. Here's how it works.

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Germany's Greens rule out further coalition talks with Merkel

By Alexandra Hudson

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's Greens ruled out any further coalition talks with Angela Merkel's conservatives early on Wednesday, leaving the chancellor to focus on discussions with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) in her efforts to form a new government.

After almost six hours of detailed policy discussions the Greens concluded they simply did not have enough in common with Merkel's conservative bloc in areas such as energy, climate targets and taxation, to make further discussions fruitful.

"After these talks the Greens do not find themselves able to enter coalition talks," said Hermann Groehe, second-in-command of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).

"We will approach the representatives of the SPD tomorrow with a view to scheduling the explorative talks we had already eyed for Thursday."

Merkel needs to find a partner for her third term after she won September's election but fell short of an absolute majority. Polls suggest the German public would like her to enter full-blown negotiations with the SPD, and aim for a repeat of the 'grand coalition' in which she governed from 2005-2009.

The SPD, however, are playing hard to get. Its representatives spoke to the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), for eight hours on Monday, and while stating their willingness to talk again, they also said they could also say no to Merkel.

The prospect of months of coalition talks worries Germany's European partners, who fear delays to crucial decisions for fighting the euro zone crisis, such as a plan for banking union.

An eventual grand coalition is expected to boost spending on investment in Germany, helping shore up Europe's largest economy and increasing trade with the struggling euro zone, helping address imbalances.

Although the CDU/CSU and Greens were ultimately unable to bridge differences, the fact that the former arch-enemies spoke at all and for so long is already groundbreaking and signals a new political culture in Germany.

"I want to stress that even in areas where there were differences, there were none which we would have viewed as insurmountable," said Groehe.

However, taxation appeared a major stumbling block, with the Greens anxious to fund an ambitious investment program.

Former Greens co-chair Claudia Roth said: "We always said it was about seeing whether there was a solid foundation for four years of government together - and after these talks it appears there wasn't."

The policy divide with the SPD looks to be smaller.

The SPD has already signaled it could stop insisting on tax hikes if Merkel's camp can come up with other ways to pay for more investment in infrastructure, education and research, which all the mainstream parties agree is necessary.

The big sticking point is a minimum wage. In the talks on Monday, the SPD made clear it would not compromise on its demand for a nationwide wage floor of 8.50 euros per hour.

But even here, the divide between the parties is more about method than substance. Merkel agrees in principle to the idea of a wage floor, but wants this to be negotiated sector by sector, rather than imposed from above.

On a range of other issues, from how to tackle Europe's economic and financial woes to completing Germany's shift from nuclear to renewable energy, the differences are minimal.

Still, the path to an eventual grand coalition won't be smooth.

SPD leaders must take care not to appear overly eager for a deal with Merkel given deep skepticism among the party's rank and file. On Sunday, 200 senior SPD members will vote on whether to continue coalition talks, and any final decision on forming a new government will be put to a vote by the party's 472,000 members.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke and Hans Edzard Buseman; Writing by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Annika Breidthardt and Paul Simao)

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