According to a CNN report Saturday, the lawsuit states that the museum "seeks to profit from the unauthorized use of the protected names and trademarks of 'Harper Lee' and 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' It is a substantial business that generated over $500,000 in revenue for 2011, the last year for which figures are available."
"But its actual work does not touch upon history. Rather, its primary mission is to trade upon the fictional story, settings and characters that Harper Lee created."
References to Lee's 1960 novel are found throughout the museum's website, from the URL (www.tokillamockingbird.com) to links promoting a Harper Lee exhibit and a theatrical production of "To Kill a Mockingbird."
The museum's Bird's Nest gift shop sells T-shirts, souvenirs and other memorabilia related to the book, which is Lee's main point of contention. According to a USA Today report, Lee filed the suit after the museum opposed her application for federal trademark protection for the book's title when it appears on clothing.
For its part, the museum denies the trademark infringement allegations, and says the sale of "Mockingbird"-related merchandise is essential to its survival.
"Every single statement in the lawsuit is either false, meritless, or both," said Matthew Goforth, a Birmingham-based attorney hired for the museum.
"It is sad that Harper Lee's greedy handlers have seen fit to attack the non-profit museum in her hometown that has been honoring her legacy and the town's rich history associated with that legacy for over 20 years."
"The museum is squarely within its rights to carry out its mission as it always has."
Lee has fought in courts before to protect her intellectual property.
Lee sued her former agent in September over royalties from "To Kill a Mockingbird." That suit was dismissed after both parties settled out of court. In the suit, Lee claimed the agent took advantage of her advanced age by having her sign over the copyright to the novel while she was in an assisted-living facility.
Now 87, Lee still lives in Monroe County, the inspiration for the fictional Maycomb County of "Mockingbird." The 1960 novel dealt with racial injustice in the 1930s, and was made into a movie starring Gregory Peck and Brock Peters in 1962. Peck won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Atticus Finch.