Sunday, April 20, 2008

JK Rowling testifies against HP Lexicon author

It seems I may have been wrong about JK Rowling not supporting Warner Brother's action against the Harry Potter Lexicon folks. According to the NYT last week Ms Rowling testified against RDR books, the company producing the printed version of the website.

"Dressed in a black dress and pinstriped suit, Ms. Rowling harshly criticized Mr. Vander Ark and his Lexicon manuscript, calling it a compilation of phrases and facts that were taken from her book and rewritten “without quotation marks around it,” and saying the manuscript was “sloppy” and “lazy.” Besides stepping on her plans to publish her own encyclopedia, she said, the Lexicon manuscript was also “derivative” and “riddled with errors.”

“What does it add?” she asked while on the stand. “The idea of my readership parting with their or their parents’ hard earned cash for this — I think it’s a travesty.

“My prime concern, if not my only concern,” she added later, “is these characters who have meant so much to me and continue to mean so much to me over a very long period of time. It’s very difficult for someone who is not a writer to understand.”


when RDR Books announced last fall that it had paid Mr. Vander Ark a small advance to create a print version of his site, Ms. Rowling and Warner Brothers objected. Ms. Rowling and her lawyers argued that RDR Books was crossing a line by seeking to profit from “The Harry Potter Lexicon,” which they say is little more than a repackaging of Ms. Rowling’s original material. And rather than writing an eighth installment of the Harry Potter series, Ms. Rowling has said, she planned on publishing a Harry Potter encyclopedia of her own and donating the proceeds to charity — an effort that would be severely impeded if Mr. Vander Ark published his Lexicon.


The publisher also argues that Lexicon follows a long tradition of literary commentary. “For hundreds of years, everybody has agreed that folks are free to write companion guides,” Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project at Stanford Law School and one of RDR’s lawyers, said in an interview. “This is the first time that anybody has argued seriously that folks don’t have the right to do that.”"

As always these cases tend to be more complicated than initial reports suggest but it is certainly one to watch closely.

Update: Christopher Caldwell, writing in the FT, has little sympathy for J.K. Rowling and more than a little for the H.P. Lexicon creator, Steven Vander Ark.
"Lawyers at Stanford University Law School's Fair Use Project, who are defending Mr Vander Ark pro bono, sought to show in three days of testimony this week that the Lexicon constitutes "fair use" of Ms Rowling's work. It is a reference guide, of the sort that is familiar (and indispensable) to anyone who has taken a deeper interest in Balzac, Proust, Faulkner or Star Trek . Ms Rowling "appears to claim a monopoly on the right to publish literary reference guides and other non-academic research relating to her own fiction", according to Mr Vander Ark's lawyer...

Whether the lexicon violates "fair use" depends, according to US legal experts, on whether it is "transformative" or whether it just cribs from Ms Rowling's plot and prose. Much of the testimony missed this issue. Ms Rowling dwelt on her own plans to publish a Potter encyclopaedia, which is neither here nor there. Literary critics cannot be kept from writing about, let us say, the novels of Philip Roth on the grounds that Mr Roth swears he wants to publish a book called What My Novels Mean ...

Whatever the court decides on legal grounds, one need only spend five minutes at Mr Vander Ark's website ( ) to see that, on literary grounds, the idea that he is merely cribbing is nonsense. The website is highly transformative. It is a leviathan effort of research, criticism and interpretation. It is a concordance, index and bibliographical essay all in one. If the eventual book bears the slightest resemblance to it, it will be indispensable to scholars and lay Potter addicts. It gives timelines of the novels and points up inconsistencies in them. Its section on plants describes the uses and behaviour of fluxweed, honking daffodils and whomping willows, and reconstructs seven years of the "herbology" curriculum at Hogwarts. It indexes everything Ms Rowling has ever said in published interviews about her main characters... Such a site is not just a godsend to Potter addicts. It is thanks to readers such as Mr Vander Ark that Harry Potter is taken as something more than just a particularly good children's book."

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