View Full Version : Fair use and the Harry Potter Lexicon

12-04-2007, 10:22 PM
I read this link (http://biz.yahoo.com/bw/071204/20071204005361.html?.v=1) in today's Publisher's Lunch. It is an interesting legal question--if preparation of the Lexicon, a kind of dictionary of all things Potter, is illegal because it violates copyright. I'm with the Lexicon publisher (and the big-time legal eagles at Stanford) on this one, and not just because I like reader-response theory.

12-05-2007, 12:01 AM
It's not clear that this MS is just "a dictionary of all things Harry Potter". If you look at the text of the website, there are lots of long passages lifted verbatim from J. K. Rowling. I have not seen the MS, but RDR argued in one of its court pleadings that it was "the same text as the website." If that's the case, it's not "fair use".

It's also not clear what's in the Lexicon manuscript. Mr. Vander Ark isn't the only person who's written the texts that appear on the website. The other authors have not been contacted for releases.

This particular book sounds as though it may be on pretty unstable ground based on those two factors alone. And the activities of RDR and Mr. Vander Ark, to date, have been just bizarre.

Nobody, not "big time legal eagles at Stanford" or any of us, can actually evaluate whether THIS PARTICULAR MANUSCRIPT does or does not meet "fair use" standards without having seen it. Based on what Mr. Vander Ark and RDR have said about it, it sounds as though it does not.

I think people love the "David and Goliath" stories, but this might not actually be one.

On edit: This passage from the plaintiffs' complaint in the matter is pretty accurate, in my opinion:

The Lexicon Website also slavishly copies lyrics to entire songs, lifts long passages directly from the Harry Potter Books, and transcribes magic spells word-for-word. In addition to copying the fictional facts and language of the books, the Lexicon Website also contains numerous infringing photos taken from Warner Bros. copyrighted Harry Potter films.

That's just not "fair use". Now, I'm sure Mr. Vander Ark could create a Harry Potter Lexicon that didn't infringe on Rowling's copyrights, but if his MS is actually "a text version of the website" as described in court pleadings, he hasn't actually done so.

On more edit: This (http://legionseagle.livejournal.com/28285.html?thread=465021#t465021) is a very good summary by a UK intellectual property attorney of her perspective on what's wrong with this picture.

12-05-2007, 12:46 AM
It's also not clear what's in the Lexicon manuscript.
You've put your finger on the key point, of course. Still, it will be very interesting to see the ruling because "fair use" seems to be such a slippery thing.