Why J K Rowling’s Harry Potter Lexicon Lawsuit Win is Good News

Steven Vander Ark planned to publish a Harry Potter Lexicon that infringed the copyright of J K Rowling’s Harry Potter novels and companion books “Quidditch through the Ages” and “Fantastic Beasts and where to find them” also written by J K Rowling. Judge Robert Patterson has banned the publication of the lexicon and awarded J K Rowling damages. This is good news because:

1. It does not stop anyone writing or publishing a guide to fictional works – the court differentiated between work that merely broke copyright and work that was transformative, eg provided a new insight to the original works.

2. It does not stop anyone making fair use of copyrighted original works – the court made the point that fair use was not just about the amount of material copied from the original but also the nature of use – the lexicon was not transformative because there were significant amounts of verbatim copying.

3. It does not stop collections of critical essays or literary criticism that make fair use of copyrighted original works, because the essays and criticism are transformative.

4. It does not stop fanfic (fan fiction) – the court took into account that the lexicon was a commercial venture and, although unlikely to impact on the sales of the Harry Potter novels, it would impact on the sales of J K Rowling’s companion books. The commercial intentions behind the lexicon weighed against it. Fanfic that credits the original, is a not for profit venture and is transformative – eg a prequel, sequel, parallel universe or uses original characters – is not banned.

Related articles:

Should Writers Get Paid?


Long Live Fanfiction

Writing Mothers

Should Writers get paid?

J K Rowling has taken a small publisher to court to try and prevent a 400 page “Harry Potter lexicon” being published. Suddenly she’s no longer the single mother who had produced a series of successful child/adult crossover novels and persuaded some reluctant readers to pick up a book, but some kind of devil for wanting to protect her copyright.

Let’s be clear, this lexicon is not an encylopedia consisting of facts in the public domain. It is not a book of literary criticism. It’s not even fanfic (and fanfic writers generally acknowledge that a) they don’t own the original and b) don’t attempt to make money from their fan fiction). The lexicon is a derivative book built entirely on J K Rowling’s original creativity. So why should she support its publication? Why is so difficult to persuade the detractors that writing is work that should be paid for?

Let’s try some facts. The Society Authors report that the typical British author earns 33% less than the national average wage. British writers aged 25 – 34 typically earn £5000 per year. The national average wage is over £20000 a year. The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society reports that British writers are also badly hit by unauthorised use of their work on the internet, fewer than 15% of authors have received any payment for online use of their work. There’s even a Facebook group in support of paying writers for their work.

Does it matter? You try doing your job for a couple of hours first thing in the morning, then getting children ready for school, doing your second job until lunch time when you squeeze a bit more of your real job in, then going back to your second job, until you pick the children up, cook dinner, do household chores and then maybe find a hour or so at the end of the day when you’re really too tired to concentrate.

It matters. Whenever I’m asked for an original unpublished poem for a new magazine, I always ask what I’m going to get paid. If I were paid for every time the wannabee editor exclaimed in complete astonishment that a poet should be paid for a poem, I’d have already earnt twenty times what I’ve managed to earn from writing.