A little while ago today, I heard a special news announcement on the radio that JK Rowling won her lawsuit regarding infringement to her copyright by the Harry Potter Lexicon and awarded $6,750 in statutory damages to Rowling and Warner Brothers.
The U.S. district court judge, Robert Patterson, ruled that Steven Vander Ark’s “Harry Potter Lexicon” would cause Rowling irreparable harm as a writer because it “had failed to establish an affirmative defense of fair use.” Patterson stated that reference materials are generally useful to the public but that in this case, Vander Ark went too far.
“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,” he wrote.
Rowling sued RDR Books, based in Michigan, last year to stop publication of this book. Rowling testified that the lexicon was nothing more than a rearrangement of her material.
“I took no pleasure at all in bringing legal action and am delighted that this issue has been resolved favorably,” Rowling said in a statement. “I went to court to uphold the right of authors everywhere to protect their own original work. The court has upheld that right.”
Vander Ark, who referred to Rowling during the trial as “his literary idol” and who repeatedly stated that he was motivated by his love for the Harry Potter series, oversees the popular “Harry Potter Lexicon” website. Vander Ark began writing his website in 1999 and launched it in 2000. The book was based upon this website and was assembled in only one month. It was organized like an encyclopedia, including things like lists of characters, creatures, places and spells from the novels. The published lexicon would have been 400 pages long and would have sold for $24.95 (£12.50).
During the hearing, Rowling referred to the proposed book as a “wholesale theft of 17 years of hard work,” saying that Vander Ark had lifted large portions of her work without using quotation marks. Further, Rowling stated that she plans to write her own reference guide to the stories and the proceeds would go to charity. She also said that she was so distressed at the prospect that it would be published that she had stopped work on a new novel, and was thus “decimating” her livelihood.
On the other hand, Vander Ark said his Web site, based on the same theme, had made little money between 2000 and 2008 and was hardly a threat to Rowling’s earning power. According to my source, Vander Ark’s site earned roughly £3000 as of October 2007, which is a small sum compared to other Harry Potter sites, such as MuggleNet, which routinely generates six-figure yearly incomes.
“The proposed book took an enormous amount of my work and added virtually no original commentary of its own,” continued Rowling in a statement. “Now the court has ordered that it must not be published. Many books have been published which offer original insights into the world of Harry Potter. The Lexicon just is not one of them.”
Of course, there are more Harry Potter lawsuits pending. For example, the Bollywood movie, Hari Puttar: A Comedy of Terrors is also facing legal trouble.
The seven Harry Potter books are quite lucrative: they have been published in 64 languages, sold more than 400 million copies and produced a film franchise that has pulled in $4.5 billion at the worldwide box office.
Mugglenet founder chooses Notre Dame over Hogwarts, Notre Dame Magazine.