Originally posted 2007-11-01 17:01:29. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Dudley_eatingBill Patry is on the mark regarding the Harry Potter magnate’s lawsuit against Steve Vander Ark, a fellow who dared publish a print version of a popular Harry Potter compendium. First, a quote from Rowling, the Patry’s commentary:

I hope one day to write the definitive Harry Potter encyclopedia, which will include all the material that never made it into the novels, and …I will give the royalties from this book to charity. I cannot, therefore, approve of ‘companion books’ or ‘encyclopedias’ that seek to preempt my definitive Potter reference book for their authors’ own personal gain.

She doesn’t add, no doubt because it is not the case, that the profits will go to charity, only her royalties. Such a shame, such a misguided monopolistic effort to wring every nickel possible out of a franchise that has brought untold wealth to Ms. Rowling and her licensees. Does she really think that any fan would not buy her Lexicon even if they already had Mr. Vander Ark’s?

Patry then analyzes one entry, about the accio spell, and concludes, “I haven’t spent a lot of time on the site and so don’t know if there is other material that might be infringing, but I don’t see how a list of spells with this type of commentary is anything other than fair use.”

Me, neither. Writes a good children’s book, but in the penumbras and emanations she’s quite the moral poseur, is Lady Rowling. I wonder what “house” of Hogwarts she belongs in?

By Ron Coleman

LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION blog author Ron Coleman is a member of Dhillon Law Group in their New York City and Montclair, New Jersey offices. He is a graduate of Northwestern University School of Law and Princeton University.

9 thoughts on “Piggy Lady Rowling”
  1. Ron, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to disagree with both you and Patry on this one. I’ve had more than a passing familiarty with Steve Vander Ark and the Potter community over the last 7 years, and there is no way I can see in which the proposed Lexicon book would be anything OTHER than a misuse of other’s intellectual property. Of course, you’re the attorney, so feel free to tell me if I’m gravely mistake here.

    There are two parts to the Lexicon. The first part is an encyclopaedic compendium of Potter arcana. Essentially, Vander Ark and the rest of the Lexicon team have rearranged the facts of the canon in an easily-referenced form. Want to know everyone’s birthday? They’re all listed under “birthdays”. Want to know a list of all the spells in the books and what they do? They’re listed as well, and alphabetically.

    It’s all Rowling’s work–just rearranged to suit the INTJ tastes of those of us who like that sort of thing.

    The other part of the Lexicon is a compendium of essays written by Lexicon participants. That publishing rights of that work should, in my opinion, belong to the original authors of the essays and NOT to Vander Ark and the Lexicon site.

    There are many of us who contributed to the Lexicon over the years out of a desire to create a sort of fan library. It is especially irksome to me to see Vander Ark attempt to profit off of the either Ms. Rowling’s or the general fandom’s work product.

    To me it’s not about whether or not she already has enough money. It’s about to whom the work legally belongs.

  2. Katherine, your argument is not “this really belongs to Rowling” — it’s “this really belongs to the Lexicon community.” That may be, but be assured: Lady Rowling is not out there suing Vander Ark to vindicate anyone’s rights but her own.

  3. it’s “this really belongs to the Lexicon community.”

    My argument is half and half.

    I think the information in the Lexicon proper (spells, birthdays, etc.) is purely Rowling’s. It’s simply a sort of re-classification of her writing.

    The essays are a separate part which belongs to the community.

    I think Rowling is justified to defend her rights to her portion of the work.

  4. Katherine, it’s pretty much all or nothing. If you think the “stuff” a person creates as part of a work that is protected by copyright is also protected by copyright, then the whole thing is hers, not just a portion, wouldn’t you agree?

  5. Well, of course.

    I’m not explaining myself well, I guess. The Lexicon website is set up in two parts. The bulk of it is Rowling’s work reorganised. It’s sort of an encyclopaedia and concordance. The only “original work” is the organisational system. Instead of being in narrative form it’s a compendium of facts pulled from the narrative works which serves as a reference. (If you want to know every page where “Quidditch” is mentioned, for instance.)

    There is a smaller section on the website which consists of essays written by fans with various levels of scholarship. For example, I submitted one which is no longer there (because I retain copyright on it) about Merope and Mayella, comparing one of the book characters with Mayella Ewell from To Kill A Mockingbird and analysing the two.

    To my mind, the fan essays should remain copyright the fans–unless they surrender republishing rights to Vander Ark–while the rest of the Lexicon is Rowling’s property.

    Where I think she hurts her case is that she allowed (and endorsed) the site for many years.

  6. Ron, I’m not a copyright specialist but my immediate thought was that a lexicon or encyclopedia that discusses material that has been copywritten by another should normally come under the fair use exception. It may not be able to use any trademarked phrases or logos. It also would not garner the imprimatur of being a guide “authorized” or “approved” by Rowling, but I would guess that’s a separate (marketing contract) matter.

    As for essays prepared by web site participants, well I’d want to know what sort of notice or waivers were used in enticing people to participate in developing content for the web site. The essayists may or may not have assigned some of their rights.

    You know this stuff better than I do, so could you point out any serious errors in my thinking here?

  7. […] We wrote about the piggish nature of billionairesse J. K. Rowling last fall in connection with her Death Eater-like persecution of an unauthorized fan site. Now copyright maven Tim Wu (yes, him again!) weighs in: Author J.K. Rowling and publisher Warner Brothers have sued the Lexicon for copyright infringement, exposing the big unanswered question: Are fan guides actually illegal? […]

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