J.K. Rowling prevails over fandom and perhaps opportunism

A U.S. district judge has ruled that a Michigan-based company cannot publish an encyclopedia about the popular Harry Potter novels because the reference books uses too much of author J.K. Rowling’s original material.

The material for the Harry Potter Lexicon was taken from a Web site operated by Steven Vander Ark, a former school librarian. Rowling herself once praised the Web site, but said earlier this year that it had become just a rearrangement of her writing.

Vander Ark’s lawyers argued that the use of Rowling’s words were fair use for a reference publication. Rowling’s lawyers argued otherwise and won. Rowling herself told the Associated Press that if the encyclopedia had been allowed to be published, “carte blanche” would have been given to “anyone who wants to make a quick bit of money, to divert some Harry Potter profits into their own pockets.”

The thought of this made her “so distressed … that she had stopped work on a new novel.” She told the AP in April: “It’s really decimated my creative work over the last month.”

This is not the first time I’ve noted Rowling’s guard-dog ferocity concerning the copyrights on her moneymaker series of novels, but this is the first time I can remember hearing an author say that a copyright dispute stressed her out so much that it ruined her ability to create. I recall William Zinsser who once wrote that writing is a job you do whether you feel like it or not; it is your calling and your profession. You do it on the good days and the bad. Otherwise — and I’m paraphrasing here — you’re little more than a tourist in the world of writing.

Maybe Rowling didn’t write great literature. In fact, she didn’t. She recombined myths and spiced it with enough originality to create a phenomenon that has earned her millions. It’s no wonder she wants to guard that and protest her nest egg — which is, no doubt, the size of an extremely large ostrich egg by now, perhaps even the size of a dinosaur egg…

Anyhow, it seems that it should be more about the books and the story and less about possessiveness. But that’s just me; you have to be an idealist about something, even if it’s unrealistic.

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