Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Harry Potter Lexicon Decision

The U.S. District Court Judge Robert P. Patterson issued his ruling in the case Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. et al vs. RDR Books et al. He ruled in favor of J.K. Rowling and against Steve Vander Ark in the matter of book The Harry Potter Lexicon going beyond fair use of copyrighted material and found that it infringed on Rowling's intellectual property rights.

The full 68 page decision can be read here.

I blogged about this case last year when the lawsuit was filed. In that post I was upfront saying that I had met Steve Vander Ark on two occasions and had corresponded with him a few times via email. I classified our relationship as acquaintances, but not as friends.

(I honestly do not think that I rank high enough on his radar screen to be considered as anything more than an acquaintance.)

In that post I had not taken any definitive side on the lawsuit because I felt that there was not enough public information on the case, I knew there was enough legal ambiguity on the issue of fair use and copyright law, and I did not want to take sides based on emotion or out of a sense of loyalty.

Now that the decision has been rendered, I still wish that RDR Books had responded in a more forthcoming manner when they were first contacted by the lawyers from Warner Brothers. For starters, I think they should have provided a copy of the manuscript for review.

If there could have been modifications made to the manuscript at that stage ameliorating objections from Rowling, then the book might have been published without the lawsuit being filed. However, that is a big, "What if?" and it is impossible to go back in time to reverse the events as they happened.

Here is the statement by Jo Rowling on the ruling that appears on Publisher's Weekly online:

“I took no pleasure at all in bringing legal action and am delighted that this issue has been resolved favourably,” said Rowling 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. The proposed book took an enormous amount of my work and added virtually no original commentary of its own. Now the court has ordered that it must not be published.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.”

I take that to mean that as long as writers include sufficient original commentary and provide new insights on her series, she will probably not interfere with the publication of companion books.

That is good to know, because I have friends who have published books in the past analyzing the Harry Potter series and are working on future books as well.

I am referring to John Granger's work whose most recent books include How Harry Cast His Spell: The Meaning Behind the Mania for J. K. Rowling's Bestselling Books and The Deathly Hallows Lectures: The Hogwarts Professor Explains the Final Harry Potter Adventure.

I am confident that Rowling will not have a problem with any of Granger's companion titles for he definitely provides analysis and original insight to her work and -- while I may not always agree with his arguments -- his writings are always thought provoking.

The ruling against Vander Ark will stop the Harry Potter Lexicon from being published in book form, but he has another book about the Harry Potter series in the works. His other project is a travel guide for Potter fans. It will be titled: In Search of Harry Potter and has not yet been released.

The Guardian mentions the forthcoming book as:

The independent publisher describes the resulting book as an "extraordinary travel book" which "evokes the myths and magic of Harry Potter". Methuen managing director Peter Tummons said that at present, each chapter includes a "few words" taken from the Harry Potter books themselves. "We've asked for approval but I guess in the end we will probably delete them because it may not come, or be denied." The book is illustrated with Vander Ark's own photos.

I saw Vander Ark's presentation at Sonorus in 2007 and was impressed. He included photos he had taken in Scotland of where he surmised that Hogwarts was located. It even had a sign near a rural train station saying "Keep Out" which since we are only mere Muggles, we would see as opposed to a glorious castle.

I wish Steve well with this publishing venture and that the legal wrangling on these issues will be over for all the parties. I also hope that the fandom does not respond with venom toward anyone. I could not stomach reading many of the comments posted on various fansites that spewed vitriol mostly in the direction of Steve, but some was also directed toward Rowling.

They deserve better.

ETA: After I finished this post I heard a segment on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation interviewing an intellectual property rights attorney discussing this case. The audio will be available later here.

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