Tuesday, April 15, 2008

J.K. Rowling Is Wrong

J.K. Rowling is currently in court in New York, trying to assert complete control over all critical or secondary works even vaguely related to her copyrights (and, more importantly, Time Warner's trademarks) in the Harry Potter properties, by suing the publisher of The Harry Potter Lexicon. She's trying to stop publication of the book, which, if I remember my Constitutional Law class from long ago, requires a much stricter test than an action after publication would.

To be blunt, I think she is absolutely wrong in her actions, and must lose the case if there is any justice in the world.

Reasons why Jo Rowling thinks she should get what she wants, in this as in everything:

1) Having someone write non-fiction about her fictional world makes her sad. "It has really decimated the demands of my creative work for the last month," she said in a New York Times article on the trial. Also compare to her sadness last year over early reviews; I'm half-convinced Rowling would outlaw all reviews or criticism of Potter if she could.

2) She is the only one allowed to decide who may profit, in any way, from Harry Potter. From the Times: "She said the book, which would cost $24.95, would compete unfairly with an encyclopedia she had been planning to create since 1998, the profits of which — possibly millions of dollars — she had planned to donate to a British charity."

3) Some of the entries steal her words. "She claims the author has lifted large chunks of her own language without quotation marks," reports the Times.

4) Some of the entries don't steal her words. The Times: "She complained that the entries consisted of words like 'Death' or 'Voldemort' arranged alphabetically, followed by what she considered bare-bones definitions."

5) Some of the entries say things that are original, and she doesn't like those, either. "She also objected to what she called the book’s “facetious asides,” like a comment about whether Hagrid could fit into a booth at McDonald’s," notes the Times.

Those reading carefully will note that only #3 is actionable in a court of law, but all five came up in her testimony yesterday. So what is she really saying? "I'm rich, powerful, and well-liked, with millions of zealous fans, so you have to do what I say"?

The bottom line: Rowling is demanding more power and control over secondary works than any entity should ever have. Judge Robert P. Patterson, who is hearing this case without a jury, should rule strongly and unequivocally against her claims.

[relying heavily on The New York Times's coverage]


Ran said...

While I might not agree with all of Rowling's views, I think her claim #3 is rather strong from what I know of the case.

I understand it's claimed that the published Lexicon uses much less direct or close quoting than the on-line Lexicon, but that doesn't necessarily mean it isn't beyond the scope of what fair use claims allow.

Also, as far as I know, the scope of the "analysis" contained within the Lexicon is an issue. If it doesn't really provide significant amounts of original material, I can't see how this can be ruled a fair use.

I speak as a vaguely interested party, I suppose, since I've created a comparable sort of fan project for another fantasy series. I'd never imagine trying to publish it without the author's permission.

(I should probably add that the above fan project has led to me actually co-authoring the official world book with GRRM, so I suppose that may predispose me towards siding with the author over the fan. But I have always been extremely careful to get permission in all things where I was doubtful about whether it was fair use or not.)

Di Francis said...

Just wanted to give you this link to my review of Extraordinary Circumstances. I'll put something up on the SFNovelists blog on Thursday. Great book.


Andrew Wheeler said...

Balerion: I am not a lawyer, but I do take a pretty wide view of "fair use" -- if something is a different kind of work, or clearly supplements rather than replaces the original, I think that's perfectly reasonable.

(Of course, I do work for the publisher of CliffsNotes, so I could be considered biased.)

Amy Sisson said...

I definitely agree with you (with the caveat that I'd be interested to know how much direct language is used, and whether or not quote marks are used appropriately).

There have been zillions of "unofficial" or "unauthorized" guides to Star Trek, Star Wars, and many other fictional universes. So this guy can slap the word "unauthorized" on his cover, and Rowling can slap the word "authorized" on her cover -- and both will sell a gazillion copies. No harm no foul. And Rowling has no right to restrict what people say about her work, whether verbally, in print, or online.

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