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J.K.Rowling wins $6750, and pound of flesh

NewYorkCountryLawyer (912032) writes | more than 5 years ago

User Journal 17

J.K. Rowling didn't make enough money on Harry Potter, so she had to make sure that the 'Harry Potter Lexicon' was shut down. After a trial in Manhattan in Warner Bros. v. RDR Books, she won, getting the judge to agree with her (and her friends at Warner Bros. Entertainment) that the 'Lexicon' did not qualify for fair use protection. In aJ.K. Rowling didn't make enough money on Harry Potter, so she had to make sure that the 'Harry Potter Lexicon' was shut down. After a trial in Manhattan in Warner Bros. v. RDR Books, she won, getting the judge to agree with her (and her friends at Warner Bros. Entertainment) that the 'Lexicon' did not qualify for fair use protection. In a 68-page decision (PDF) the judge concluded that the Lexicon did a little too much 'verbatim copying', competed with Ms. Rowling's planned encyclopedia, and might compete with her exploitation of songs and poems from the Harry Potter books, although she never made any such claim in presenting her evidence. The judge awarded her $6750, and granted her an injunction that would prevent the 'Lexicon' from seeing the light of day.

17 comments

And the other thing she won... (1)

Reziac (43301) | more than 5 years ago | (#24938325)

...was the ill will of fans.

Clearly she doesn't grok how this sort of widespread fandom works: it all feeds off each other. The more different reference works are available, the more copies you ALL sell. Fans who buy that sort of thing are usually fanatic completists, and scarf up anything and everything that feeds their nitpicking-- er, I mean detail-scavenging habits. The late Compedium would have MADE her more in future cross-sales than it ever cost her... and more than she won in court.

Sometimes the rabid ones aren't really desirable.. (1)

Chyeld (713439) | more than 5 years ago | (#24938407)

This is a bit of a 50/50 for me. On one hand, there were things that I don't like on how Rowling handled the situation. She certainly isn't on my top ten list of 'asshat' authors, but she didn't improve her standing any.

On the other hand, this isn't a case where I have much sympathy for the other guy either. Fandom is one thing, profiting off a book that included a good amount of verbatium copying from the orginal works is another thing.

The judge made it fairly clear, had that copying been less copious, he might have been more inclined to have gone the other way in his ruling.

The judge might have gone the other way (1)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 5 years ago | (#24938705)

Also, JK Rowling claims that she doesn't fight works that she believes are "fair use", works that criticize hers or build on hers to add something of value. With all the fan fict flourishing out there, it would appear she is sincere.

Re:Sometimes the rabid ones aren't really desirabl (1)

Reziac (43301) | more than 5 years ago | (#24938755)

Yeah, and from what I've read, I agree the guy made a mistake by too much verbatim copying. However, that could be rectified. If I were judging the case, and had the option, I think I'd have ruled that the guy had to rewrite his own book to be more "original"...

Or maybe better, leave well enough alone and make him pay a royalty from his book sales directly to Rowling. Which would have raised its price some (fan publications tend to be pricey enough, due to being pubbed on too small a scale) but still, enough of the fanatics would cough it up. And it would have been a fair, direct profit arrangement for both parties: If you make money from my work, then I get a cut. If you have no sales, then no harm done to anyone.

Or if she was really smart, Rowling could have made it a joint venture, saved herself a lot of work (since he already did most of the grunt work for her) and they could have worked out a royalty share for both of 'em, or if she's cheap just pay him as work-for-hire and be done with it.

But I suspect she had a "How Dare He!" moment, and couldn't see beyond that. I've seen other writers do that when they felt "infringed", and after that there's no reasoning with 'em -- they want to see blood pouring from the other guy's wallet, and that's final. If it ultimately cuts their own throats -- they don't care.

Re:And the other thing she won... (1)

NewYorkCountryLawyer (912032) | more than 5 years ago | (#24938889)

Clearly she doesn't grok how this sort of widespread fandom works: it all feeds off each other.

She understands perfectly well how it works. These types of works helped her books and movies grow in popularity.

It's just that:

-she doesn't need them any more; and

-she's forgotten what it's like to be one of the have nots.

Details: (1)

andphi (899406) | more than 5 years ago | (#24938387)

Did the court's decision specify how the pound of flesh would be extracted without shedding blood?

This lessened her in my eyes (2, Interesting)

NewYorkCountryLawyer (912032) | more than 5 years ago | (#24938813)

I think it's a disgrace. She should be ashamed of herself.

And the judge just got it wrong. Verbatim copying does not preclude a fair use, just so long as it's not a substantial part of the infringed work. In this case, they were inconsequentially small snippets for books of that size.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, the fact that the judge awarded only $6750 creates a major disincentive for defendant to appeal. It's like the judge was doing that to avoid getting reversed, which he almost surely will be if the case is appealed.

Re:This lessened her in my eyes (1)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 5 years ago | (#24939297)

Verbatim copying does not preclude a fair use, just so long as it's not a substantial part of the infringed work

What is the "infringed work" - 50,000 pages over seven volumes? How many pages must one copy verbatim to constitute "a substantial part of the infringed work"?

As I understand it, Rowling's claim is sort of the reverse - that the Lexicon doesn't contain much original content, that the ratio of Rowling's words to RDRBooks' words indicates that little value has been added.

Do I have my facts wrong? Does she?

I can see both sides of this. (1)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 5 years ago | (#24945639)

On one hand, I'm all for fair use, and fully support the legal right of this guy to come out with his own work based on Rowling's books.

On the other hand, and it's a big hand, as I understand it his lexicon was made up not only of his own work, but of the data on his website to which a considerable amount of fans had contributed. Would they have been as free to contribute to the work if they knew he was going to eventually take it offline, bind it up, and sell it? Was there a chunk of legalese specifically warning submitters that they might be contributing to a commercial work for which they would see no profit?

I used to run the main fansite for a popular cartoon. It contained not only my own work, but the submissions of many others who happened upon my site and wanted to help. Even the artists and writers who made the cartoon apreciated the support, and were kind enough to provide me with some exclusive stuff for my visitors. Given the community built up around the thing, I just would not have felt right taking what a couple hundred strangers had helped me produce and selling it for profit.

I guess when it all comes down to it, I can support this guy's legal right to do what he did, but not his moral right.

Re:I can see both sides of this. (1)

NewYorkCountryLawyer (912032) | more than 5 years ago | (#24947051)

On one hand, I'm all for fair use, and fully support the legal right of this guy to come out with his own work based on Rowling's books. On the other hand, and it's a big hand, as I understand it his lexicon was made up not only of his own work, but of the data on his website to which a considerable amount of fans had contributed. Would they have been as free to contribute to the work if they knew he was going to eventually take it offline, bind it up, and sell it? Was there a chunk of legalese specifically warning submitters that they might be contributing to a commercial work for which they would see no profit? I used to run the main fansite for a popular cartoon. It contained not only my own work, but the submissions of many others who happened upon my site and wanted to help. Even the artists and writers who made the cartoon apreciated the support, and were kind enough to provide me with some exclusive stuff for my visitors. Given the community built up around the thing, I just would not have felt right taking what a couple hundred strangers had helped me produce and selling it for profit. I guess when it all comes down to it, I can support this guy's legal right to do what he did, but not his moral right.

Hey, Rob. Very thoughtful and incisive comment. I have a few questions for you:

1. Did the judge say that? (I didn't read all 68 pages, but I didn't see anything about the material not being defendant's material in the first place).

2. In the unlikely event that I were to take my blog, "Recording Industry vs. The People [blogspot.com]", and put it into a book, would you feel that I had a moral obligation to exclude the "Comments" section, which many have said is the best part of my blog?

Re:I can see both sides of this. (1)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 5 years ago | (#24947567)

1. I don't know, I haven't been paying close enough attention to the case. I am just aware of the type of site the fellow ran, and I think it was more of a collaborative work than just his own. I could be totally wrong on that, though; my addled memory can't place where I got that info.

2. I feel that blog comments are a different matter entirely. The role of comments on blogs is well-known; your commentors are not contributing to the main content of your blog, just bouncing their own two cents off of it. They're responding to you, and as far as I can see you're just as entitled to publish that as you are to publish a letter someone sends you.

Re:I can see both sides of this. (1)

feepcreature (623518) | more than 5 years ago | (#24965281)

...as far as I can see you're just as entitled to publish [comments on your blog] as you are to publish a letter someone sends you.

i.e. not entitled? You own the letter, they own the copyright - a bit like a CD, really?

Re:I can see both sides of this. (1)

Zalgon 26 McGee (101431) | more than 5 years ago | (#24954381)

From what I read in the judgment, the verdict was essentially "Such reference works are to be encouraged. But you screwed up by too much verbatim copying, inconsistent attribution, and went around promising book distributors that there was no pending litigation."

Once he found that the work violated copyright, the minimum penalty is $750 per infringement. With the seven Potter novels, plus the two reference books Rowling wrote as well, that made for 9x$750, or $6750 - the minimum damages possible.

Re:I can see both sides of this. (1)

feepcreature (623518) | more than 5 years ago | (#24965233)

on the second point ('would you feel that I had a moral obligation to exclude the "Comments" section' in a book of the blog), I'm not sure, but different contributors are likely to see the morality differently, depending on how they thought of their comments - as contributing to a community, or to your blog.

My guess is that your moral case would be weaker if you went commercial with the book without maintaining free online access - but anything you did would be wrong to someone.

As for a legal right, I guess you're more competent to judge - do you have any small print? In the absence of any specific caselaw (statute law seems unlikely) I suspect comments belong to their authors? Unless you can argue for rights in some sort of collection / database / aggregate work, with yourself as the collector / organiser / maintainer? Or the media industry gets creative with novel rights like "I broadcast it so now it belongs to me".

But hey - that's the sort of advice we're not actually paying you for :-)

Back to the point - did the defendant have any kind of copyright assignment or licence from his contributors? And how significant was the contributed content?

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