Plagiarizing Potter

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Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

Steven Jan Vander Ark, a huge fan of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, thought it might merit a sort of reference book — a lexicon — for fans like him and new readers, to help them sort through the twists and turns of the magical tale. He spent seven years working on it, and Rowling sued him for its — some might say inevitable, even necessary — resemblance to the original books. Judge Robert P. Patterson Jr. of the Federal District Court in Manhattan agreed with Rowling, called it plagiarism, and sent Vander Ark and his lexicon packing. It's tricky. While a guide is something Vander Ark's fans (he has a website, the Harry Potter Lexicon) expressed a great need for, it's true, it wouldn't be successful without extensive borrowing from the series itself, in which words, locations, and much much more are straight from the mind of the author, Rowling, and as such, her intellectual property. In the end, the judge decided this passionate fan (who bears no ill-will to Rowling, calling it a legal dispute he "would rather... wasn't personal") is on the wrong side of the law. Which camp are you in?



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Whatever you say about copyright infringement, please don't call it "stealing." This misuse of the term has been promoted by the copyright industry to gain sympathy.

Sent by John Kozma | 2:46 PM | 9-9-2008

I'm still a little sketchy on the last comment that was brought up on the air. If someone wanted to sell an album of themselves performing the different poems and songs from within the books, would they need explicit permission? I've seen similar works based on The Lord of the Rings, but is that because of the age of the series? Also, if someone wanted to use a few of the melodies from the movie soundtracks in their own songs, or even to make a full blown cover of the songs, is that allowed?

Sent by Vason Senmic | 3:11 PM | 9-9-2008

Perhaps JK would like to explain how many of the ideas in her stories where "inspired" by CS Lewis?

Sent by Clifford | 5:02 PM | 9-9-2008

You fail to provide the relevant information for me to judge.

The important point is: did he contact Rowling before publishing his lexicon and ask her permission?

If not, then he doesn't deserve to have it published and he ought to be ashamed of himself.

Sent by Kasreyn | 5:48 PM | 9-9-2008

Vason: if you're thinking of the various audiobook recordings of LotR, they are generally authorized by the Tolkien estate & pay royalties for their use of the material. Any that don't are in violation of copyright law.

As for using a few melodies, that falls into the category of "sampling", which is a complex, nightmarish tangle of copyright law at the moment, and in general is an artform to itself that is being strangled out of existence by intellectual property law. I encourage you to check out to learn more about sampling music.


Sent by Kasreyn | 6:20 PM | 9-9-2008

please just write JKR and leave the lawyers out of it!! If it is that good readers will use it.

Sent by d | 8:05 PM | 9-9-2008

All I can say is...Go Jo! I supported her from the start on this and I am happy to see an end to this at last. It's sad though the Lexicon web site was great and I miss it; Van Ark ruined it with his greed.

Sent by R. Serena | 9:42 PM | 9-9-2008

Lawrence Krauss, a physics professor at Case Western Reserve University (my alma mater), wrote "The Physics of Star Trek." I haven't listened to this program yet, but I wonder if perhaps his book can establish a reference or precedent for this discussion.

Sent by Justin | 9:33 AM | 9-11-2008

Justin: I have that book & to my knowledge it was cleared through Paramount w/ full permission & the publishers pay royalties. Paramount is known for being quite litigious where their Star Trek properties are concerned; they generally will sue first, ask questions later.

Sent by Kasreyn | 3:16 PM | 9-11-2008