Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Harry Potter And The Copyright Lawyer

from the fan-fiction dept

There are, as you know, plenty of intellectual property questions around "fair use" rights - but one of the more interesting ones might be the legality of "fan fiction" - stories written by fans of books and movies to mimic the original. Generally speaking, these are done by true fans who want more - and who wants to stop fans from expressing their enjoyment of a work of art? The question, though, is where is the line between fair use and copyright infringement? In the case of the Harry Potter books, it appears an entire subculture of fan fiction is thriving. J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, seems to have nothing against these sites... unless they feature adult material, at which point the cease-and-desist letters come out. In that case, it appears to be less a "copyright" issue than one of being afraid of young kids searching the internet for Harry Potter stories and coming across something a little too mature.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Mark F, Jun 18th, 2003 @ 11:42am

    Selling fan-fiction

    The article closes with:

    Teresa is in the middle of another long piece, this time something funny and light about Snape's new wife's conflict with Lucius Malfoy, a notoriously mean wizard and the father of Harry Potter's arch rival, Draco Malfoy. She hopes to finish the rest this summer. As always, before she posts a new installment she will make sure to put a little "c" with a circle at the top, staking a claim to a copyright. But, she acknowledges, she's not sure what would happen if she got an offer to sell her stories. Does she in fact own the stories she wrote -- or does J.K. Rowling?

    While INAL, I think that little "c" isn't going to help much. It will likely protect her from others (such as Rowling's publisher) publishing her stories under their name but the fan fic author is not going to be able to sell work based on other people's characters.

    Basically until the writer and Rowling agree to let the work be sold nobody can sell it.

    Fan fic is okay, but if this author spent as much time working on stories with new characters and situations maybe she would be published in her own right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Chris, Jun 18th, 2003 @ 12:03pm

    No Subject Given

    What happens when HP6 unintentionally mirrors a plot development that somebody wrote as fan fiction? Given the vast quantity of fan fiction out there, it is only a matter of time until it happens. How liable will an author be for copying (unintentinally or otherwise) the work of somebody that was copying them?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Mark F, Jun 18th, 2003 @ 1:29pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    I think the defense would be that it was unintentional. Rowlings probably has been told by a lawyer to never read anybody’s fan fiction and have somebody open her mail to prevent her from reading plot suggestions.

    The creator of Babylon 5 was active in some USENET newsgroups. The FAQ stated that anybody who talked about possible future plot developments or ideas would be banned.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    MWAF, Jun 19th, 2003 @ 4:35am

    Re: Selling fan-fiction

    In an article on (I think) some years ago, someone who ran a creative writing course complained about his students handing in fan fiction. Some of them were producing excellent work but with someone else's characters: as long as they weren't prepared to go that extra mile, they would never get published.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Alley, Jul 29th, 2003 @ 9:52am

    Re: Selling fan-fiction

    Fan fiction, to me, once published on the net, is stealing. What if J. K. Rowling unknowingly wrote her next novel with a lot of stuff already done in fan fic? Rowling owns the rights. The fan fic author cannot sue. And copyright law says "ideas" cannot be copyrighted, but worlds and characters (like Harry Potter and his world) can be, because that is part of the book.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.