'Harry Potter' Author Wins Suit Over 'Lexicon' Book

Correction Sept. 9, 2008

We incorrectly stated that the suit was brought against "RDR books and author Stephen Vander Ark." Lawyers for J.K. Rowling only named the publishing company in their complaint.

A U.S. District Court judge has ruled against publication of the book The Harry Potter Lexicon, written by Steven Vander Ark and based on his Web site of the same name. The judge said its publication would cause harm to Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

You might have heard of that "Harry Potter" fan who wanted to educate other readers with his encyclopedic guide to the young wizard's world. Author J.K. Rowling took him to court, arguing that "The Harry Potter Lexicon" was an infringement on her copyright to the popular series. Now, a judge in Manhattan has agreed with the author, handing down a judgment that "The Lexicon" may not be published. NPR's Margot Adler has more.

MARGOT ADLER: The case was brought by Rowling and Time Warner against RDR books and author Steven Vander Ark. In court last April, lawyers for Vander Ark described his book as a reference work. And the author said it was a celebration of Rowling's work and not plagiarism. Rowling noted that although there were countless books on Harry Potter from "The Idiot's guide to Harry Potter" to "Fact, Fiction and Folklore in Harry Potter's world," this book crossed the line. Speaking outside the courtroom in April, Rowling put it this way.

Ms. J.K. ROWLING (Author of the "Harry Potter" series): There are lots of books in many languages that comment on or criticize "Harry Potter," and I'm delighted about that. But the book in this case is different. It provides no analysis and virtually no commentary. It takes far too much, and it gives far too little.

ADLER: Much of the trial involved Rowling opening books on "Harry Potter" comparing alphabetical entries. In the selections she read, Vander Ark's were short and almost identical to Rowling's own words. The other books had extensive commentary and scholarly material which Rowling believed was, unlike Vander Ark's book, a proper case of fair use. Rowling said "The Harry Potter Lexicon" was simply a rip-off. If published, she said, it would give carte blanch to anyone who wanted to make a quick bit of money from her books. Rowling has become a billionaire from the "Harry Potter" empire with 400 million copies sold worldwide in 65 languages.

Judge Patterson awarded Rowling nearly 7,000 dollars in damages, a small amount since the book had not yet been published. RDR books, which was to publish "The Lexicon," released a statement saying they were disappointed and were considering all options. They also said they were glad the court ruled that as a general matter, authors do not have the right to stop the publication of reference guides and companion books about literary works. J.K. Rowling released a statement saying she took no pleasure in bringing legal action, but went to court to uphold the right of authors everywhere to protect their own original work. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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