Tuesday, April 15, 2008

greedy artist update -- J.K. Rowling

The author of the Harry Potter series testified in a New York courtroom yesterday in a dispute over who has the right to profit from her creativity.

A librarian who has read the entire series of boy-wizard novels a ridiculous number of times teamed up with a Michigan publisher to put out a for-profit Harry Potter Lexicon. It seems in their zeal to make sure our shared culture does not suffer for lack of such a tool, they didn't bother to ask Ms. Rowling's permission, or whether or not she might be working on something like a lexicon herself. She is working on one, in fact, and, if asked, she wouldn't have granted permission, but the librarian and the publisher would still like to make money from their lexicon. Read a full account of the case by Anemona Hartocollis in the New York Times.

Here is the gist of Rowling's claim:

Ms. Rowling argued on Monday in Federal District Court in Manhattan that the proposed encyclopedia — she has read the manuscript — is a copyright infringement and is little more than an alphabetical form of plagiarism. She claims the author has lifted large chunks of her own language without quotation marks. “I believe that this book constitutes the wholesale theft of 17 years of my hard work,” she testified.

And while the defendants in the infringement case love and respect Ms. Rowling's work enough to use it for their own business ventures, they demonstrate little if any respect for the author herself:

The lead defense lawyer, David Hammer, was not impressed with her literary critique of the work. “Have you ever read a dictionary, Miss Rowling?” Mr. Hammer demanded. Alphabetical order, he continued, “is what the Encyclopedia Britannica uses, isn’t that true?”

Pleasant.

3 comments:

Infringer said...

Yay for Voldermort, err, I mean Vander Ark.

I'm surprised you get offended so easily John and say the lawyer was being disrespectful of Rowling with that quote. I think he was simply making a point. A reasonable point at that.

Aside from the fact that there is indeed room for more than one of these lexicon books, what relevance is it whether Rowling is planning her own lexicon or not? Either this lexicon is fair use of the Harry Potter material or it is not. Perhaps you would consider arguing why you believe it is not. If it is fair use then it is also irrelevant whether she would have given permission or not as none would be needed.

I think it is a fair use. Any list of facts shout not be protected by copyright. Whether they are facts in the physical world or fictional worlds should not matter.

Authors have a right to a limited monopoly for their work. but surely one of those limits has to be something as simple and straight forward as an alphabetical list of facts and definitions.

So what happens if Rowling wins this eh? Words like muggle and expeliarmous get into the dictionary because they have fallen into common usage and Oxford starts paying Rowlings a royalty?

Serenity Now! said...

"Any list of facts shout not be protected by copyright."

But these aren't lists of facts... unless you believe that it's a FACT that Voldermort exists and killed Lillian and James Potter...

If it was fact-based, then that might hold water. But these are fictional creations and there are no facts involved.

Infringer said...

Hey Serenity, why didn't you quote the very next sentence too? "Whether they are facts in the physical world or fictional worlds should not matter."

Of course they are facts. They are detailed facts about the stories. You not saying that the Harry Potter story doesn't exist are you?

Come on serenity, get your facts straight! :-)