Why J.K. Rowling Shouldn't Get To Prevent Harry Potter Guidebook Publication

from the copyright-doesn't-let-you-control-everything dept

We've covered in the past J.K. Rowling's attempts to claim that copyright gives her more rights than it actually does, especially with regards to fan fiction. However, Rowling's latest attempt is to try to prevent the publication of "The Harry Potter Lexicon," a fan-created reference book to all things having to do with the world found in the Harry Potter books. Law professor Tim Wu does a nice job explaining why Rowling's claim goes beyond the limitations of copyright law, which does not prevent someone else from creating a guidebook of information about characters you created. As long as the guidebook creators are not copying Rowling's words verbatim, but are merely creating a guide or a critique of Rowling's work, it's not a copyright issue. Rowling's real problem with the guidebook appears to be a different issue. She had no problem when the Lexicon was just a fan website. However, when they wanted to sell a book, she became upset. So the real problem appears to be that she doesn't want anyone else to make any money -- but that's not what copyright law is designed to do. Newspapers make money off of books all the time by publishing reviews, and we all know that's legal. There is no difference in creating a reference book.

Rowling complains that this work will make it difficult for her to publish her own guidebook: "I cannot approve of 'companion books' or 'encyclopedias' that seek to preempt my definitive Potter reference book...." However, as Wu notes, that's silly and has nothing to do with copyright law: "two products in the same market isn't called pre-emption—the word is competition." And, generally, competition is something that we should encourage, as it drives all competitors to provide better products. If Rowling really believes she cannot compete with a fan reference guide, that's hardly the fault of the other reference guide. Given the interest in Harry Potter, it's hard to believe that an "official" reference guide given Rowling's endorsement wouldn't outsell any fan-created version.

Filed Under: copyright, fan fiction, harry potter, j.k. rowling


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  1. identicon
    Hellsvilla, 15 Jan 2008 @ 12:47pm

    You can't compete when someone beats you to market

    She probably has her own publication in the works that would increase her bank account, and is just trying to make sure it's not beat to the market by a more popular unauthorized edition.

    The problem isn't that she's trying to protect her interests, it's that she's using lawyers to protect her interests in ways that lawyers are not supposed to operate.

    IMHO, the problem here is that her lawyer(s) are not preventing her from taking these actions. Instead it smells more like she's given the day to day operations of her estate to a lawyer. And we know that if you're a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. Well, if you're a lawyer, then every problem looks like a... well, you get the picture.

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