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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the film phenomenon, 'To Kill a Mockingbird'.
Credit: Universal

Melodi Smith

CNN

(CNN) -- Reclusive author Harper Lee has agreed to allow "To Kill a Mockingbird" to be released electronically, ending what had until now been a glaring holdout in the digital library of literary masterpieces.

Lee announced her decision Monday -- her 88th birthday -- in a statement released by her publisher HarperCollins.

"I'm still old-fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries," Lee said. "This is Mockingbird for a new generation."

Nelle Harper Lee hasn't published a work in more than a half-century.

She's made headlines though in steadfastly fighting to keep the rights to her intellectual property protected.

In 2013, the Alabama native sued her hometown of Monroe County Heritage Museum for trademark infringement, saying it was illegally using her fame for its own gain.

"Historical facts belong to the world," the suit argued "but fiction and trademarks are protected by law."

Lee also once sued a former literary agent for being "duped" into signing over the rights to her novel.

Inspiring millions

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is told through the eyes of Scout, the daughter of a lawyer in Maycomb, Alabama.

It deals with a local attorney's relationship with his children and his community as he defends an African-American man accused of raping a white woman in the 1930s Jim Crow era.

Its themes of racial injustice and waning innocence, grounded in characters possessing courage and tolerance, have inspired millions of readers.

The 1960 novel -- the only one Lee wrote -- won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into an Academy Award-winning movie.

According to HaperCollins, the novel has sold more than 30 million copies in English worldwide. It's been translated into more than 40 languages, and still sells more than 1 million copies every year.

Social buzz

If social media buzz is any indication, there's considerable excitement about this classic novel coming into the 21st century.

"Thank you Harper Lee! To Kill a Mockingbird coming to a kindle near you in July! A present for us on her birthday!" wrote Amy Feld in a Facebook post.

"Hot damn! Harper Lee okays an ebook of THE classic," wrote another, Kathy Whitlock.

The e-book and digital audio will be released on July 8, the date of the 54th anniversary of the book's original publication.

CNN's Bill Mears contributed to this report.

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