In papers filed for a lawsuit in Manhattan, J.K. Rowling says she feels betrayed by a fan, Steven Vander Ark, for his role in trying to publish an unauthorized reference work, “Harry Potter Lexicon.”
Ark is editor of a Web site containing a fan-created collection of essays and encyclopedic material on the Potter universe, including lists of spells and potions found in the books, a catalog of magical creatures and a who’s who in the wizarding world.
Despite how you may feel about the Harry Potter books, Rowling is an author who has generally smiled kindly on fan fiction and fan websites.Â And now she is being portrayed as the bad guy by invoking her copyright protections to prevent a derivative book from being created.Â
The offenders are arguing that since Rowling gave her blessing to their free website which contains much of the same information, she by extension granted them the right to profit from a book.
Let me give folks a brief lesson in copyright law:
The owner of a copyright, and only the owner of a copyright, has the right to create derivative work fromÂ his or herÂ intellectual property.
The owner of a copyright has the right to determine how others may or may not use his or her intellectual property.Â The granting of some permission does not automatically extend to other permissions.
Fair Use, which is often bantered about by copyright thieves, has several limitations.Â One of which is whether or not the so-called fair use material interferes with the potential market value of the original IP.
These laws even apply to the publisher.Â For example, when we came up with the idea to create aÂ Â free character download for The Grandmaster, I needed to get Peter’s permission to do so.Â Even though I am the publisher of the book, the copyright remains with the author.Â And therefore only he can give the OK to create such derivative works.
In this case, Rowling has plans to publish her own Harry Potter Lexicon.Â The defendant in this case, therefore, would be in direct competition with the author and thus interfering with her ability to profit from her own work.Â
The repercussions of this case are important to both writers and fans.Â If the courts side with the defendant and agree that Rowling permission to create a free fan site extends to the publication of a for-profit book based on the site, then this will force all authors to in fact shut down all fan sites in order to protect their property.Â Many creators of popular characters do in fact enjoy interacting with their fans and appreciate the value fan sites bring to their work.Â But if the defendant is successful in this suit, creators will be put in a position that they cannot allow any use of their IP.Â If the courts side with Rowling, this reaffirms that creators can continue to allow the creation of fan-based works without worrying about the loss of other rights.
Some folks are obviously thinking, “She’s got so much money, what is the big deal?”Â The big deal is that the laws that affect the small percentage of millionaire bestselling authors are the same laws that also affect the majority of writers that are not millionaires.Â If we accept that it is acceptable to profit from Rowling work without her permission, we have to be prepared to accept people profiting from our work…even if we haven’t!Â Â I know a great many talented authors who do make a full time living with their writing, but they aren’t rich by any means.Â And it would hurt their families and their livelihoods if others were allowed to just steal their IP and make money on it.
This is a case that can have serious consequences to both writers and fans alike.Â It troubles me how people think it is acceptable to steal the hard work of others and profit from it.Â Perhaps it is part of our culture of entitlement, where too many people think that just because they want something they should be allowed to have it for free, regardless of the time, effort, and care others have put into it.