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
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2008 @ 4:34pm

    TRADEMARK != COPYRIGHT

    This is in response to some of the commentors suggesting that this is a "trademark" issue.

    You are wrong. Trademarks are there to protect the consumer so someone doesn't go buy Product X with the name Y when they really wanted Product Z with the name Y.

    In other words, since it is a REFERENCE book it isn't impaired by trademark law. They are fully and correctly using "Harry Potter" to describe the J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter character(s) and universe. They aren't tricking the consumer into think it is something else.

    Funny that this hasn't been a problem before. I can think of several similar things from Star Wars and Star Trek that are duplicate reference material. No one got sued over them, though you'll be hard pressed to find ones other than "Star Wars: The Essential Guide to" whatever the book subject is specialized on.

    Yet another story showing how afraid of losing money Rowlings is. I'm happy she made millions and got out of poverty, but she along with many others need to stop abusing laws and wasting the court's time.

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