Tuesday, September 09, 2008

US judge rules tag-along publication of Harry Potter not "fair"

A judge in New York City ruled yesterday that the wholesale commercial republication of sections of the Harry Potter series of books does not constitute a "fair" use under the broad and generous US copyright doctrine. U.S. District Judge Robert P. Patterson decided the proposed Harry Potter Lexicon, for which no permission was given, would cause "irreparable injury" to the original copyright holder (J. K. Rowling).

The author and publisher of the proposed reference text had argued that their use of Rowling's material was protected by the doctrine of Fair Use. This argument failed to pass the court test. Rowling has stated that she intends to create her own Harry Potter reference book, which means of course that the Lexicon in question would use her own original material to compete commercially against her.

Some more details of the ruling at CNN.com, the BBC and The New York Times.

Thanks to bookninja for the tip.


John McFetridge said...

The Canadian publisher of my books (ECW Press) publish quite a few "tie-in" books, including some about Harry Potter. There's never been any problems with any of them.

As usual in these cases (the other that comes to mind is the George Harrison, "He's So Fine/My Sweet Lord," case) what happened here was far more personal between the people involved - who knew each other long before any lawsuit was started - than about copyright law.

Too bad, though, this ruling will probably get misused in all kinds of places.

John said...

Yeah, there certainly seems to be some past between Rowling and this dude, but I think the key to this ruling is the consideration of Fair Use.

There's a difference between a tie-in, reportage, even unauthorized biographies, and the wholesale use of enough original material to make a use patently unfair. It's far too easy to conflate suppression of artistic freedom, commercial freedom or even freedom of expression with base infringement.

I like the line that was drawn in this case. I appreciate that we are still drawing these lines in the age of free culture.