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Monday, September 8, 2008

…And Your Little Harry Potter Book, Too

posted by on September 8 at 13:14 PM

J.K. Rowling has won a copyright infringement case against an author who was trying to publish a Harry Potter encyclopedia. The bajillionaire author also won $6,750 in damages.

This is a bad thing for copyright cases. Rowling claimed that this particular book, The Harry Potter Lexicon, has too much content copied directly out of the source material and is profiting directly from Rowling’s success. But I can see this sort of thing being used as a precedent to further attack publishers of unofficial guides to just about anything.

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It's about people making money off her work, this is a good thing for copywrite. This is just like the chuck norris jokes, it was all fun and games till some idiot published a book hoping to make money off his name without his permission. If the author feels so strongly about publishing an encyclopedia of someone else's work do it for free, put it on the internet, but don't steal someone else's work and think you can make a living off of it. That was the purpose of copyright and it's the same principal upheld in creative commons.

Posted by chris | September 8, 2008 1:31 PM

Lazy, Paul. The suit can't be generalized given that the judge's decision was extremely particular, defining a narrow issue about the amount of copying. The fellow who had written the book wasn't per se claiming originality, nor was the publisher. From the excerpts I've read, he did a lot of copy and pasting, instead of writing a unique work.

There are plenty (and will be plenty) of "universe of so-and-so" books because most of the folks who write those come out of the professional fan world in which they write unique stuff. Fan fiction, authoritative Web sites, etc.

I've thought about writing a world of Nero Wolfe book, but I realized that the audience is about 100 people worldwide.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman | September 8, 2008 1:40 PM

Homophobic bigoted but otherwise smart guy Orson Scott Card was 100% right on this issue 4 months ago:

Posted by Eric Arrr | September 8, 2008 2:59 PM

Here's my problem with Card's piece.

"Well, heck, I feel like the plot of my novel Ender's Game was stolen by J.K. Rowling. A young kid growing up in an oppressive family situation suddenly learns that he is one of a special class of children with special abilities"

Yes Orson, that's your original brilliant idea, before Enders Game, no one thought of that, except the 100's, if not 1000's of comic books, movies, novels, plays, songs, etc, with that same theme.

Posted by hal | September 8, 2008 3:50 PM

The precedent was set ten years ago, when Castle Rock Entertainment went after the Seinfeld Aptitude Test. The Seinfeld world belongs to Castle Rock as the Harry Potter world belongs to J.K. Rowling -- they are works of fiction. If all the author did was rearrange the elements of the books, there is no transformative value. The book takes away the market for Rowling's own encyclopedia, which is an obvious add-on to the series now that Rowling quit writing sequels.

A fan site is one thing, making money off someone else's creativity is another. And the "Well, she did it too" is hardly a counter argument -- a court decided Rowling didn't copy Stouffer.

Posted by qui xotic | September 8, 2008 3:52 PM

What is the purported benefit of unofficial guides, as opposed to official, author sanctioned guides?

Posted by Chris in Tampa | September 8, 2008 4:04 PM
The suit can't be generalized given that the judge's decision was extremely particular, defining a narrow issue about the amount of copying.
Rowling asserted wholesale copying, but I see nothing in the news stories indicating just how much of the original text was quoted verbatim. This statement from the judge is somewhat encouraging: “While the Lexicon, in its current state, is not a fair use of the Harry Potter works, reference works that share the Lexicon’s purpose of aiding readers of literature generally should be encouraged rather than stifled.”
Posted by Furcifer | September 8, 2008 4:27 PM

Yeah, it's such a bad thing that I can't alphabetize someone else's prose and call it a transformative work. God, however will I be published now?

Posted by Red | September 8, 2008 6:05 PM

Furcifer (@7): There were excerpts published comparing the fan site's definitions against passages in Rowling's work.

Orson Scott Card is a blowhard. Rowling wasn't suing because someone wrote a story similar to hers. She sued because someone was going to publish a book essentially composed of pieces of her book.

Derivative work is very tricky, and this case shouldn't be taken as a chilling factor for anything but works that lack critical insight, analysis, or uniqueness.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman | September 9, 2008 2:40 PM

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