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Rhetoretician -- Fiction etc.

Copyright lawsuit for print version of Lexicon

Copyright lawsuit for print version of Lexicon

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Cicero

NEW YORK - J.K. Rowling and the maker of the "Harry Potter" films are suing a small publisher in Michigan over its plans to release a book version of a popular Web site dedicated to the boy wizard

The suit, filed Wednesday by the author and Warner Bros. in federal court in Manhattan, claims that RDR Books will infringe on Rowling's intellectual property rights if it goes ahead with its plan to publish the 400-page "Harry Potter Lexicon" on Nov. 28.

According to the publisher, the book contains much of the same material already found on http://www.hp-lexicon.org, a fan-created collection of essays and encyclopedic material on the Harry Potter universe, including lists of spells and potions found in the books, a catalog of magical creatures, and even a "who's who in the wizarding world."

Here's the full article:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071101/ap_en_ot/harry_potter_lawsuit_8

I haven't yet seen a copy of the complaint, but if the article is accurate (always uncertain with news stories about lawsuits) then it was the fact that the publisher was planning on making money off this that triggered the lawsuit.  Apparently JKR still supports the Lexicon itself.

  • Yes, I think you're right. She's always said positive things about the Lexicon before, and even, I believe, admitted to using it to check her own facts!

    I think the issue was (a) the money, and (b) that she's said before that she intends to publish an encyclopaedia one day which, though it would presumably also have new stuff in it, would inevitably reproduce quite a lot of the Lexicon info.

    Seems more than fair to me.
    • I concur.

      There are three kinds of copyright holders:

      1. Those who don't give a hoot, (e.g., Woodie Gutherie -- "This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin' it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do");

      2. Those who look on copyright as a way of ensuring revenue and a way of maintaining their own control over the work ("Don't get in my way and don't steal my money, and we'll get along fine");

      3. Those for whom copyright is a religion unto itself (e.g., The Disney Vault).

      Rowling's words over the years, especially concerning fan fiction and the fan sites, lead me to think she's in category #2.
      • Yes, I agree.

        On #3, I had a friend who had painted a Winnie-the-Pooh, freehand, on her daughter's bedroom wall. Daughter's friend came over, photo was taken. The image of the Pooh was spotted by a Disney scout, who took it to the company. Next thing, a lawyer's letter landed on their doorstep threatening legal action.

        I believe the little girl has butterflies in her bedroom now!

    • Utterly insane. First of all, the painting on the wall is probably under one of several exceptions to the Copyright Act. Secondly, can you imagine the publicity? "Disney Sues Little Girl For Her Bedroom Wall". I'd've loved to have represented the parents; I can just see the first negotiation: "Shall we see how many wire services will carry this story, or will you go away now?"

      Reminds me of the (actual!) case about fifteen years ago when ASCAP filed a lawsuit against the Girl Scouts of America for singing copyrighted songs at their Jamborees without paying royalties. The headlines ran, Music Company Sues Girl Scouts For Singing. Case was dismissed, with apologies, the very next day; I presume the idiot attorney who filed it was sacked the next day.
      • Unbelievable! I guess what normally happens is that people immediately get scared off by the letter and word goes round so that no one ever dares go near the Disney stuff again.
    • Incredible.
  • The Leaky Cauldron has a good overview including excerpts from the complaint here.

    This thread at fandom_lawyers has links to two interesting analysis of the situation.
    • The Leaky Cauldron discussion is great. I wish I could get my hands on the complaint.

      The legal analyses are okay. The guy who says that copyright is about copying, rather than about profits, seems to have no awareness of the history behind it. Copyright is, at its base, about controlling revenue -- the only reason we control copying (and distributing, and displaying) per se is because those are reasonable proxies for revenue.
  • Rowling has a perfect right to protect herself. It was well known she was planning this for at least a year. I'm glad she is leaving the lexicon alone (even though I have never looked at it, much less even knew it excisted :)) So thanks for the link. I'll look at it.

  • I keep wondering "what's the whole story?" There must be more to it than comes out in media. Did Steve Van Der Ark decide to make the book himself, or was he approached by the publisher (who thought this was a brilliant way to cash in on the Potter mania)? My gut leans towards the latter, because if he wanted to publish - why not do it before? That said, he's done such a lot for the world of Potterholics, I'm more comfortable with him finally getting some income from it than all the others who have published companion books. And I can't see that there isn't room for both a printed Lexicon (if the whole reason for the lawsuit is that they called it encyclopedia, as one news report I saw claimed, then I can't see why that word couldn't be dropped), and JKR's "Hogwarts, A History" - honestly, I'd probably get both.
    • I think Steve was suckered into this. I don't know him personally, but the nasty, belligerent retorts are all coming from the publisher in Michigan, and Steve has been silent. That's very instructive.

      But Berte, nobody has the right to make money off the stuff Jo thought up except Jo. There's plenty of room for a printed lexicon, and if RDR were donating all of its profits to JKR's favorite charity, I'll betcha she'd be publicizing for them.

      Your comment about getting both, though, is very interesting in light of the "fair use" analysis -- which we can discuss at length if you like. It's a fascinating topic.
      • No, I agree that Jo's the only one who's got the right to make money of the stuff she thought up - can you just forget I used the words I did? I've enjoyed the Lexicon a lot, and a small part of me just wants him to get something back from it - it doesn't have to be directly (like money from a published book).

        Now, the more I read about this, the more I want to bang my head against the wall and the more ashamed I become on their behalf. That Ginny essay mary pointed out - so crappy it's hard to believe it's possible. I must admit that Steve's star has become terribly tarnished in just the last day.

        Regarding Disney Corp., I once read a wonderful satirical cartoon, where a rather moth-eaten Mortimer Mouse was found, sighing "It all started when Uncle Walt died, and the guy froun accounting moved in." Says it all, imo. But seriously - they wanted to sue someone who'd painted Winnie the Pooh on their child's bedroom wall? How crazy can you get? It's not even their work - they just bought it form a man who resented all that his father was and stood for and had made.
  • Hi, I just found your journal while looking around to see what other fans are saying about all this. I'm relieved to read something that is more pro-Steve and not letting Rowling off the hook for this so lightly.

    I'm distressed at the ruination of Steve's reputation by this, after people have thought so highly of the Lexicon over the years, including JKR. I use the lexicon all the time and refer people to it for information, so I'm totally sad that the end result of this may be that he might have to take it down or something.

    I don't know him at all, but he always seemed to have respect for the author. However, many fans are backing up JKR and her public relations machine. I know this small publisher can't win against Warner Bros., but there is something patently unfair about singling his book out, when others have been allowed over the years. If this was a Mugglenet Book, she would not sue them.

    JKR is not making herself look good with this and I just read on a Swiss woman's LJ that she may be going after a German writer who has a book coming out in February. This hasn't hit the press in the U.S. yet. It's a book called "Help for Hufflepuffs."
    http://sander123.livejournal.com/16215.html

    I wonder how fans will respond to that, as the circle of lawsuits widens?
    • Hello, and welcome! Take a look at some of my fiction, if you get a chance. (I've begun a multi-chapter Snape story you might like...)

      I don't want to give the wrong impression here. I don't know a lot about Steve, I do know a lot about JKR, and my impression is that Steve was suckered into this by an unscrupulous publisher. The legal attack is clearly against the publication of the book for sale, not against the Lexicon itself; nobody (including JKR) wants to take out the Lexicon.

      The Mugglenet books are a completely different matter; they are commentary, the same way that critical books about John Irving or Toni Morrison are commentary. They fit squarely within the Fair Use exception, they generate a tremendous amount of original content, and they do not compete with the interests of the author. The Lexicon is a free guide, supported by fans, supported by JKR, and not a problem. But every single bit of information in it is information about something JKR wrote, and the only original content is the fan art. To try to make a profit off it is clearly illegal. It's also wrong.

      I'm a 47-year-old legal studies professor. I'm not bamboozled by anybody's publicity machine. I'm "pro-Steve" only to the extent that I don't think he thought this scheme up himself; if he did, I'd have no patience with him. As it is, I think he's been very badly advised.

      I'm a fanfiction writer; I've won a couple of awards for it; I get some nice praise for it; I love doing it. But I would never, in a million years, try to earn a dime off of it; it wouldn't be fair or right. (I once got a free ticket to the Keynote address at a conference as a prize for one of my stories, and I had serious moral qualms about that.)
  • Thanks ~ I appreciate your point of view. I just think there are alot of one-sided discussions going on all over the internet.

    Of course, only time will tell how this shakes out. :)
  • It's me again, lol. Don't mean to keep dropping in to bother you.

    There's a good discussion about the case going on at the following link, with praetorianguard, who wrote out a summary of her view of the Copyright case:

    http://praetorianguard.livejournal.com/271214.html?view=6697070#t6697070

    • Thanks! I got through about half of that analysis, noticing how really fine it was, and then had a suspicion -- it was really too good.

      So I went to look at the User Profile, put two-and-two together, and realized that "Praetorianguard" is almost certainly Amy Tenbrink, the leading expert (in my opinion) on copyright as applied to fan fiction and fan activity. No one's perfect, but Amy has a better shot at being right about this analysis than almost anyone.

      Thanks for pointing it out!
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