Posts Tagged ‘lawsuit’
Some folks have asked me why I’m not posting about the J.K. Rowling and Warner Brother’s lawsuit against RDR Books and The Harry Potter Lexicon website creator (and author of the Lexicon in question), Steven Vander Ark. The problem was that I was trying to decide where I fall in this debate. Like most things, there are multiple ways of viewing any given situation, and because of this, I’ll be posting two responses: the one here in this post, and one on Lyrique Tragedy Reviews about the impact the lawsuit potentially has on publishing, academics, and the proverbial line in the sand between free fan based web content (arguably unique and subject to their own copyrights) and a commercially published monolith. The problem is, that line seems to be erased and moved more often than not. Here’s an open letter (seeing as this is “letter” month for NaBloPoMo) to Ms. Rowling.
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The Scenario: For those of you who don’t know what’s going on, let me give you a brief run down: J.K. Rowling published one of the highest grossing series (7 books) in recent memory about a boy wizard, a school, and magic between 1997 and 2007. As with all obsessively popular works of art (film, books, music, etc), fan sites and fan fiction pops up over the internet. This, of course, happened with HP. One site, The Harry Potter Lexicon, became a hugely popular resource for fans–and apparently J.K. Rowling as well. Not only did she give an award to the site, she admitted in interviews and under oath, that she would use the site as a reference while writing. (Because, she claimed, it was embarrassing to have to go in to a bookstore and buy your own book to check facts) In October J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers sued RDR for copyright infringement when the owner of the Lexicon announced that he was compiling the site into a book. Last week both Ms. Rowling and Mr. Vander Ark appeared in court to testify in the case. Rowling argued that not only was it her material, but the Lexicon book was “sloppy and lazy”. Also, she had planned on writing her own encyclopedia and donating the proceeds to charity, which the publication of the Lexicon would damage. She came close to tears on the stand when asked about her struggles getting to where she is, presumably to reinforce just how important her work is to her.
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Dear Ms. Rowling,
There is so much wrong here that I don’t even know where to begin. First of all, your HP books have sold over 400 million copies worldwide in 64 languages, and the films pulled in $4.5 billion (that’s with a “B” folks) in the worldwide box offices. The books are priced at $34.99 in hardback (new) and you can find them for $9.99 in paperback (new). You do the math. Your struggle with tears on the stand is no longer relevant and, quite frankly, is insulting. I get that your work is a part of you, and is important to you–there are few things more violating than being plagiarized–but to somehow drag the experience of your struggle before that first book was published in to the present and think it should sway a judge or the people following your trial is a slap in the face to anyone who has a brain. Once that first book was published and you raked in your millions, you lost all rights to my sympathies in that regard. It was a cheap move, executed to sway the trial from a ethos and logos driven argument to a pathos driven one. Even my Comp 101 students could see that (and have). Go blow your nose in a hundred dollar bill, honey.
Second, it’s bad. I’d be annoyed too—especially if I spent 17 years creating a world only to have it hacked apart for publication. Guess what, though… you can’t stop publication simply because you think it’s bad. There are plenty of bad books that have been published, and unfortunately, personal standards have nothing to do with it. If I had my way, I would never have seen The Road or Lord of the Flies published. If it’s plagiarism, that’s another thing (don’t worry, I’ll get to that here in a minute). Your literary standards have no bearing on this case.
Third, you want to publish your own encyclopedia, and that, itself, is a valid reason to stop this one from going into print. (Uh huh. Oh, but you had no problem with the few that are already out there. Uh huh.) You want to donate the proceeds to charity (How very nice of you). You believe the publication of the Lexicon will deter readers from purchasing your encyclopedia. Wait, what?!? You can’t, in one breath, claim that the Lexicon is sloppy and lazy–implying that it’s not good–and then in another breath claim that it will sell enough copies (the publisher predicted a sale of about 10,000, by the way—A far cry from 400 Million) to significantly diminish your own sales. You’re talking out of both sides of your mouth here, and again… it’s insulting. You can’t have it both ways, Ms. Rowling. Either it’s good enough to endanger your own profit on an encyclopedia, or it’s not–based on the fact that you wrote the books, your acclaim, and your ability to market pretty much anything, I highly doubt this under any circumstances. Well, maybe now that you decided to throw your weight into shutting it down it might increase those sales for RDR. What a silly move. There’s nothing more valuable than bad press. If you really wanted to do some good for that charity of yours, you would have donated the proceeds you gained from the last movie released, or your last book.
Fourth, it’s “wholesale theft” and plagiarism. Uhm, no. Fair use gives folks the right to create compendiums, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and reader’s guides. Your contemporaries have had plenty–Anne Rice, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Terry Pratchett–and prolific writers historically have had plenty–Shakespeare, Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, to name a few. Not all of the reader’s guides, compendiums, encyclopedias, and dictionaries have had the support of the author, and they don’t have to. The only case where plagiarism is relevant in this academic tradition of organizing fictional worlds, is if every single entry was directly lifted from the original work with absolutely no unique analysis, explanation, or commentary. You admitted under oath that you didn’t like the style or the “incomplete analysis” of entries. In stating that, you just shot yourself in the foot by admitting there was analysis present.
I hope Mr. Vander Ark merely changes the name to “The Unofficial, J.K. Rowling thinks this is a threat to her profit, Lexicon” but we both know that would inspire another law suit. So Perhaps “The Unofficial Lexicon” would suffice. I also hope that the judge sees through the games you, your lawyer, and Warner Brothers are trying to play, and instead chooses to protect academic and fair use freedoms.
~D. M. Papuga