When the Harry Potter Lexicon website announced plans last fall to publish a book based on their fan-written content, JK Rowling and Warner Brothers sued for copyright infringement. A Federal judge halted the planned November publication of the book while the lawsuit plays out. Now Tim Wu at Slate argues that Rowling has gone too far.
Are fan guides actually illegal? As sympathetic as I am to Rowling and her rights as an author, the answer is no. There is a necessary and healthy line between what the initial author
owns and what follow-on, or "secondary," authors get to do, and Rowling
is running over that line like the Hogwarts Express. The creators of
H.P. Lexicon may not be as creative as Rowling, but they are authors,
too, and deserve a little respect from the law.
[…] Rowling takes the position that she, as the original author, has the
right to block the publication of any such guide. In her words:
"However much an individual claims to love somebody else’s work, it
does not become theirs to sell." But Rowling is overstepping her bounds.
It appears he is wrong, at least from a legal standpoint. A reader on Rebecca Blood’s site refers to previous court precedents that support Rowling’s claim:
Castle Rock Entertainment, Inc. v. Carol Publ. Group, 150 F.3d 132 (2d
Cir. 1998), aka, the Seinfeld Trivia case. Someone created and
published an unlicensed book of Seinfeld trivia, with details about
characters and lines in the show, arguing that doing so was fair use
and merely a compilation of facts. The court held that the facts about
the show weren’t really facts, but rather expressions of the creators’
imaginations, and the most important fair use factor of effect on the
market was in Seinfeld’s favor since they had plans for their own
derivative books based on the show. See also Twin Peaks v. Publications
Int’l, Ltd. 996 F.2d 1366 (2d Cir. 1993), which was plot summaries and
quotations from the TV show Twin Peaks – again, the court held that the
amount of material taken from the original was substantial and
adversely affected the market for authorized books about the show, and
so denied a fair use defense to copyright infringement."
Variety reports that Rowling is taking action because interferes with her plans to do her own compendium.
"I cannot, therefore, approve of ‘companion books’ or ‘encyclopedias’
that seek to preempt my definitive Potter reference book for their
authors’ own personal gain," Rowling said in a statement, released by
[…]The lawsuit doesn’t seek action against the Web version of the Lexicon,
but criticizes it for numerous sections it said "regurgitate Ms.
Rowling’s original creative expression with minimal additional
The CBC reports that Rowling isn’t happy about having to take the fans to court.
Rowling had been a supporter of the website and in a statement
released on her website, Rowling admitted she took "no pleasure" in
launching the lawsuit.
"I feel massively disappointed that this matter had to come to court
at all," the statement said. "Given my past good relations with the
Lexicon fan site, I can only feel sad and disillusioned that this is
where we have ended up."
The outcome of this case, if it goes to trial, could have far-reaching impact on how far fans can take their so-called derivative work and claim it as their own.
(Thanks to "Calistoy" for the heads-up).