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J K Rowling and Warner Bros were successful in their recent legal action to block the publication of Steve Vander Ark's Harry Potter Lexicon. The decision (available here in full from Standford University Law School's website) recognised the principle that reference guides about literary works should not be prevented from publication by the copyright  of the owner, but held that the Harry Potter Lexicon was an infringement of J K Rowling's copyright and did not represent a 'fair use' under US law.

The defendent, RDR Publishing, which was proposing to publish the unoffical Harry Potter Lexicon, was represented in the case by Anthony Falzone, a lawyer with Standford Law School's Fair Use Project. According to Falzone, "We agreed to help defend the Harry Potter Lexicon because J.K. Rowling's claims threatened that right [to publish reference guides and companion books about literary works, a critically important part of literature], and because we believe the fair use doctrine protects the Lexicon, and other publications like it".  On the decision, he commented, "careful and thoughtful as the decision is, we think it's wrong".

From a legal perspective, copyright exists to protect a written expression, not a concept. There are questions as to whether that mark has been overstepped.  In preparing a reference guide to works such as those of the Harry Potter series, it is impossible not to use many of the written expressions created by the author simply becuase many of them are made up - this does not necessarily make it a reproduction or an adaptation of the work.

From an intellectual assets perspective, aside from the protection of a market for reference guides worth millions, one wonders whether the exposure and notoriety of coverage such as this is of greater value than the acclaimed website (Ark's Harry Potter fansite won praise from Rowling herself in the past) promoting the works of Harry Potter.

Rumours circulated last month of an appeal, but the news has yet to materialise.

(14-Oct-08)

 
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