Earlier this year, we wrote about how J.K. Rowling's lawsuit against the publishers of a guidebook about Harry Potter's universe was extremely misguided
. That lawsuit got a lot more attention Tuesday, as Rowling herself showed up in court to play an emotional, rather than legal, strategy
. The NY Times even reports that she was "stoically holding back tears." Cry me a river. Rowling is basically trying to get copyright law to do a lot more than it is intended to do -- and all of her emotional bunk doesn't change that. Claiming that the "stress and heartache" of such a publication had hurt her creativity for the last month seems excessively questionable. Furthermore, it doesn't change the fact that a derivative work, such as this guidebook, doesn't violate copyright. There are lot of things that cause me stress and heartache and which might make me lose my concentration. It doesn't make them illegal.
It appears that the publisher's lawyer had some fun, pointing out that Rowling didn't seem to have that same sort of stress and heartache when she gave an award to the website that "The Harry Potter Lexicon" came from. And, when presented with evidence of how the book took Harry Potter details and did more with them (making them more useful), Rowling tossed out the following
: "This is theft. Wholesale theft." Well, no, it's not. If it were anything, it would be infringement (not theft), but more importantly, it wasn't about republishing the content, but making it more useful. It's the same argument we discussed recently with people overestimating
the value of the content, and underestimating the value of the service of making it useful. The most damning point might be that Rowling herself in the past admitted to using the lexicon to check up on facts she didn't remember.
However, the real key point that Rowling went back to again and again in her complaint is that she just didn't think the quality of the Lexicon was very good. That seems like a bizarre complaint, as copyright has nothing to do with quality. In fact, as the publisher's lawyer asked, "You feel it's your responsibility to prevent people from paying their hard-earned cash for things you don't like?" At which point, she switched arguments again, reverting to the claim that it was "theft." Of course, if she really thinks that the book is awful, there's a really easy solution: to come out with her own
version of a guidebook. Surely, people would be a lot more interested in buying the "official" version, written with Rowling's approval, than some fan-created one. In fact, Rowling admits that she's been thinking of doing exactly that (and throws in the totally separate from the legal issues, but good for an emotional tug, claim that she would donate all proceeds to charity). Of course, there's nothing actually stopping her from competing, other than what appears to be her own unwillingness to actually have to compete for readers.