UPDATED: I’m told that reclusive author of the 7-volume Harry Potter series of books, J.K. Rowling, is flying from Scotland to NYC in order to testify Monday when the trial starts in the lawsuit she and Warner Bros jointly filed last October against Michigan-based RDR Books. The company, which normally publishes books about travel and Judaica, will defend The Harry Potter Lexicon which began online and is about to become what it says is a “reference guide” which Rowling can’t lay claim to. But issues of copyright infringement and fair use are in dispute over online material that’s been subsequently published. The case will be heard in federal court for the Southern District of New York. Rowling will be the first witness for the plaintiffs. “It’s very important to her,” an insider told me Friday night. “She doesn’t feel that somebody else should be effectively ripping off her work and infringing on her intellectual property.”
Although it has agreed to remove Rowling’s name from the back cover, RDR Books has refused to stop publication, leading to the present legal brouhaha. Joining Rowling in this lawsuit is Warner Bros Entertainment Inc, which holds trademark rights in the names, places and characters in the books and copyrights in the films based on all the Harry Potter’s. The sued publisher’s statement is below. But, first, here’s the joint statement by Rowling and Warner Bros provided to me tonight:
“Ms. Rowling is very supportive of individuals and groups who enjoy her characters, especially the fan sites. She has given exclusive interviews to various webmasters, and presented fan sites with awards. Her willingness to make available the intellectual property in Harry Potter for charitable purposes is well known, and she has supported creative book authors who have written analysis, criticism and comment on her works. To date, approximately 100 books relating to Harry Potter have been published in the US alone, including religious, mythological and scientific analyses. Notwithstanding her support for these fans and authors, J.K. Rowling owns the copyright in all the books of the Harry Potter series and also in the fictional characters, events, places and things that make up the world of Harry Potter. In addition, she owns the copyright in two companion guides that she authored.
“Steven Vander Ark runs a fan website called ‘Harry Potter Lexicon’ which has been online since 2000. Ms. Rowling has been supportive of the website, which is free of charge for people to use. She even gave it a fan site award in 2004. However, Mr. Vander Ark has now entered into an agreement for a printed version of the Lexicon, which RDR Books intends to profit from by publishing at a price of $24.95. The book is very different than the website and far inferior to it. It fails to include any of the commentary and discussion that enrich the website and instead is nothing more than a re-arrangement of J.K. Rowling’s own written material.
“J. K Rowling believes that this is wrong. Mr. Vander Ark himself also appears to believe that it’s wrong. On his website, he writes, ‘I don’t give permission for people to just copy my work for their own use. Not only is that illegal, since everything in the Lexicon is copyrighted, it’s also just plain wrong.’ In addition, to fans who were proposing a ‘Fan-Made Harry Potter Encyclopedia,’ he e-mailed: ‘Basically, it is illegal to sell a book like that. Jo has reserved all publishing rights to her intellectual property, which means that she’s the only one who may publish any book that is a guide or encyclopedia to her world.’
“Ms. Rowling also believes that if this book is published, it may detract from sales of her own planned encyclopedia, the proceeds from which will go to charity, just as the proceeds from her other companion books have already been donated to charity. There is a long history of authors using their intellectual property rights to benefit charities. The income from works by George Bernard Shaw continues to support the British Museum, British Library, National Gallery of Ireland and Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, the copyrights in Rudyard Kipling’s works help support the National Trust, while the copyright in J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan continues to support the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. Sadly, the Stanford Center for Law and the Internet, which is acting against J. K. Rowling in this case, has previously attacked Great Ormond Street Hospital and attempted to deprive it of the income intended by J. M. Barrie’s bequest.
“Repeated, cordial efforts have been made to persuade RDR Books not to go ahead with publishing the Lexicon. Although it has agreed to remove J. K. Rowling’s name from the back cover, RDR Books has refused to stop publication, leading to the present legal action being taken. Joining the author in this lawsuit is Warner Bros Entertainment, Inc., which holds trademark rights in the names, places and characters in the books and the copyrights in the films based on the Harry Potter books. Together, they are suing RDR Books (but not Mr. Vander Ark personally) to prevent publication and to seek appropriate damages.”
Here is RDR Books’ statement about the lawsuit given to me Saturday night:
New York Federal District Court Judge Robert Patterson has scheduled a trial for April 14 in the matter of Warner Bros. Entertainment and J.K. Rowling v. RDR Books. The judge consolidated a previously scheduled injunction hearing with the trial. The plaintiffs want to block publication of librarian Steve Vander Ark’s Harry Potter Lexicon.
In this action, a distinguished and tremendously successful novelist demands the suppression of a reference guide to her works. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, asserts that this reference guide infringes both her copyright in the seven Potter novels and her right to publish, at some unidentified point in the future, a reference guide of her own. In support of her position she appears to claim a monopoly on the right to publish literary reference guides, and other non-academic research, relating to her own fiction.
This is a right no court has ever recognized. It has little to recommend it. If accepted, it would dramatically extend the reach of copyright protection, and eliminate an entire genre of literary supplements: third party reference guides to fiction, which for centuries have helped readers better access, understand and enjoy literary works. By extension, it would threaten not just reference guides, but encyclopedias, glossaries, indexes, and other tools that provide useful information about copyrighted works. Ms. Rowling’s intellectual property rights simply do not extend so far and, even if they did, she has not shown that the publication of this reference guide poses a sufficient threat of irreparable harm to justify an injunction. Her injunction motion should be denied.