Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Win for Authors and Fans Everywhere

Some of you may have heard several months ago about the much debated and discussed lawsuit between J. K. Rowling/Warner Bros. and RDR books. If you haven't, I'm shocked cause even I heard about it and sometimes I think I'm living under a rock I miss so much news. The entire issue came up last fall when RDR books and Steve Vander Ark, webmaster of the popular website the Harry Potter Lexicon(an awesome Harry Potter reference site which is of course free to everyone) decided to publish a book version of the website. In other words they were basically making an encyclopedia of sorts with nothing but J. K. Rowling's original words and work rearranged in a low quality format for the benefit of Steve Vander Ark and RDR Books.

As J.K. Rowling explains in her legal complaint:

"The seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series was only released less than six months ago on July 21, 2007. I was touring in support of the book, most recently in the United States and Canada, until December, 2007, after which, I took a much-needed break.

"I was thus sad and disappointed to learn while in the midst of touring in support of the last Harry Potter book that RDR Books and Mr. Vander Ark planned to release a Harry Potter "lexicon" directly contrary to my wishes. I understand that the prposed book is neither commentary nor criticism of the Harry Potter series -- either of which would be entirely legitimate -- but instead lists in alphabetical order the various fictional characters and things in the Harry Potter universe. It is as if I have been 'scooped' before I even had the chance to wind up the book tour for the final Harry Potter installment, much less to write and publish my own Harry Potter guide.

"Even worse, RDR Books and Mr. Vander Ark apparently are attempting to justify publication of the 'lexicon' based on the past praise I had given to the Harry Potter Lexicon fan site. As I have already explained, I have always supposed Harry Potter fans, even if it has meant allowing fan websites to reference copyrighted Harry Potter materials, but have drawn the line at selling such materials for commercial gain. By threatening to publish and sell the unauthorized 'lexicon,' RDR Books and Mr. Vander Ark have crossed that line.

"It is incomprehensible to me that this 'lexicon' should be allowed to be published simply because I encourage and support fan websites or because Mr. Vander Ark was able to finish his 'lexicon' while I was still touring in support of the last Harry Potter book. My fear is that if the 'lexicon' is published, authors like myself will be forced to restrict the use of their materials on fan websites or risk losing their right to restrict other unauthorized uses of those materials. Such a result benefits no one and hurts the fan community most of all.

"Contrary to assertions made by RDR Books and Mr. Vander Ark, there is an enormous difference between enjoying the free Harry Potter Lexicon fan site and allowing a book to be sold that directly competes with future Harry Potter works that I intend to author. Moreover, the website differs significantly from RDR Books' proposed book. The website, to which I gave a fan site award, features exciting graphics, user forums, and critical essays, whereas the proposed book simply repackages story lines and characters from the Harry Potter series in an alphabetical A-Z listing. Also, as I mentioned, the website is free whereas RDR Books plans to sell the book fro $24.95. Lastly, the 'lexicon' does not measure up to the standards that I have set for licensing derivative works. In short, I would never have approved of this 'lexicon.'

"To add insult to injury, I have learned that RDR Books intends to market the 'lexicon' in a way that suggests that I have endorsed it when, in fact, the opposite is true. The back cover of the proposed book contains a large and prominent quote by me that makes it look like I am endorsing the book. In fact, the quote was taken without my permission from a fan award I gave the Harry Potter Lexicon fan site in 2004, which as I explained above, is different in style, purpose and commercialism from the proposed book. Given the similarity between the names of both the website and the 'lexicon,' the book gives the false impression that I have approved of it and suggests to my fans that I am encouraging them to buy the book, when I am not.

"I feel as though my name and my works have been hijacked, against my wishes, for the personal gain and profit of others and diverted from the charities that I intended to benefit. Accordingly, I respectfully ask this Court to stop publication of RDR's Books' 'lexicon' and send a message to other would-be infringers that they may not capitalize on the fame and success of the Harry potter franchise in the future."

Well, after months of waiting the judgment has been made in favor of J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. This reference book will not be published!!

News sources are reporting that the judge in the case of J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers vs. RDRBooks has issued a ruling. From WNBC NY:

“The small publisher was not contesting that the lexicon infringes upon Rowling’s copyright but argued that it was a fair use allowable by law for reference books. In his ruling, Patterson noted 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 said.

He added that he ruled in Rowling’s favor because the “Lexicon appropriates too much of Rowling’s creative work for its purposes as a reference guide.”

Reuters reports that JKR and WB were awarded $750 per book (seven novels plus the two companion books) in damages, for a total of $6750. The opinion said:

“Since the Lexicon has not been published and thus plaintiffs have suffered no harm beyond the fact of the infringement, the court awards plaintiffs the minimum awards for each work to which plaintiffs have established infringement.”

On the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, IP lawyer Ethan Horwitz summarizes the ruling:

“What Judge Patterson is saying is that when you look at fair use, one of the dominant issues is, are you providing commentary or taking the value of the work and selling it as your own? He decided that the value of the work was being taken, that [Rowling] had the ability to put out the kind of encyclopedia that [Vander Ark] was putting out, and that she’d indicated an intent to do so.”

Basically what this all means is that while anyone can write a commentary or companion book to an author's work they cannot rearrange the authors work for their own gain and publish it without adding other content such as commentary, essays, or discussions of the material. Why is this important? It means that authors still have the rights over their own work and to protect that work from people seeking to profit from it without doing any work of their own. 

What would have happened if RDR Books and Steve Vander Ark had won? Well I suppose to say an influx of "reference" books of many popular literary works providing no original content would flood onto the market. Authors would constantly have to fight to protect their work. They would also have to constantly monitor the internet for fan sites, fan fiction, or anything that could lead to further infringement of their work. 

In fact, say goodbye to fan websites in general. Say goodbye to online reference material for literary works such as the Lexicon. Say goodbye to fan fiction, and in the case of Harry Potter fans, Wizard Wrock (music and musical bands inspired by and centered around Harry Potter content). J.K. Rowling was not only protecting her rights as an author but our rights as fans to come together as a community and honor an author's work in a respectful manner.

I am a writer and a fan of Harry Potter and as a person in both positions I see the importance of J. K. Rowling's fight in this matter. This is one great win for authors and literary fans all over.

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