Technology and Business Law Blog

Fair or Unfair Use, a Copyright Issue?

J.K. Rowling a single mother on welfare who completed her first Harry Potter novel in numerous cafes in London is now a billionaire and the 13th richest woman in Britain. She became a billionaire because of the runaway success of the Harry Potter series novels and the movies and merchandise that came along related to the novels.

Rowling along with Warner Bros which owns the trademarks to the Harry Potter movies and merchandise filed a copyright infringement suit against RDR books which is a small closely held independent publisher based in Muskegon, Michigan. Initially Rowling was all in praise of Steve Vander Ark, who runs the Harry Potter fan site called hp-lexicon.org, and said she she has even used it herself few times.

So it was a surprising departure for Rowling, who has encouraged so-called “fan fiction” and once said there is nothing wrong withpeople writing new stories for her characters, to share withfriends.The author and her lawyers said they were stirred to action by the proposal to move the Potter lexicon from the anything-goes Web, where it was available for free, into book form, where it would compete directly with a Potter encyclopedia that Rowling plans to write herself. In short, by deciding to sell his material, Vander Ark was stepping across a line. He was no longer just an enthusiastic fan, but a professional and potential competitor — fair game for the lawyers. Read here.

Last year when Vander Ark entered into an agreement with RDRBooks to publish the lexicon in print in exchange for a small advance, Rowling filed the suit stating that she intends to write her own “definitive guide” and will donate the royalties to charity. She feels that her plans to go ahead with her own guide will be harmed if RDR Books publishes Steve Vander Ark’s book.

The lawyer for the defendent is Anthony Falzone who runs the “Fair Use Project” at Stanford law school. Fair use is a defense not cast in stone and is decided on a case to case basis, Judge Robert Patterson, Jr., of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan has urged the parties to enter into a settlement saying that he was concerned that the case wasw “more lawyer-driven than it is client-driven.” The judge further said “The fair -use people are on one side, and a large comppany is on the other side… The parties ought to see if there’s not a way to work thsi out, because there are strong issues to this case and it would come out one way or the other. The fair-use doctrine is not clear.”

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April 21, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

2 Comments »

  1. Lets set aside the legalities of this since “Fair use” is a bit ambiguous.

    Rowling got rich, filthy rich with the harry Potter books thanks to fans that promoted the series, fans that she encouraged. All I can really say is that she is as ungrateful person as Ive ever seen. Not to mention greedy.

    And where does she come off? “This is something that I was going to publish at some point in the future” well tough luck lady, someone beat you to the punch.

    Comment by Marco Cano | April 21, 2008 | Reply

  2. I admit for bitter reasons, I hope Rowling wins. The owner of the HPL website is frankly, a stuck on himself putz. When I said that I felt the British edtions of the books – with their British slang still intact – were superior because they were more authentic. He attacked me and banned me from the site for an opinion he disagreed with – he felt the edited American versions were better, apparently. So go, JK, kick his butt in court. You deserve to win more then him.

    Comment by Jami | April 22, 2008 | Reply


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