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. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 15 Jan 2008 @ 1:55pm

    Selfish

    It seems like you captured the issue: it's just plain selfish. She doesn't want anyone else to make money, in case, maybe, perhaps, she will want to make money that way herself. Better to block anyone from adding based on the platform of the existing Potter books. Just like we should outlaw Alpine, Clarion, Garmin, etc from building products that fit into GM cars, since that right should be reserved for GM.

    Rowling would get along well with MLB, which thinks it should own the facts around baseball, and that no none else should be able to build a derivative product. Sure, the world would be a far better place if we could only block all creative ideas that are based on the foundation of other ideas.

    But didn't somebody, somewhere, first come up with the concept of a Lexicon, or users's guide for a book? Mabye Rowlings should have to pay half of any of HER earnings to the descendents of that person, because she is stealing their idea of a Lexicon. She should also find the rights-holders for sorcerers, giants, wizards, trains, castles, and the English language, and pay them all their share of her derivative tomes that use their original concepts. Gawd, it's endless.

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