Does JK Rowling own Harry Potter?

Posted by Otis Chandler on April 16, 2008

In a recent article in the New York Times titled Rowling to Testify in Trial Over Potter Lexicon, it was announced that JK Rowling is suing a small publishing house (RDR Books) that was planning to publish a Harry Potter Encyclopedia. The book was to be based on the content from the website The Harry Potter Lexicon, by a Mr. Vander Ark. Now this doesn't sound right at all - has JK lost it?

Fan fiction is a huge genre. I went through a whole phase in middle school of reading dozens of books that continued the Star Wars series. There is even a Star Wars Encyclopedia. Did all those books have to kick back to George Lucas? I don't know - but I wouldn't guess Lucas cared either way - the more fans got into it the more movies he would sell.

So if fan fiction is a huge genre, it appears JK Rowling can't own Harry Potter. She attempts to explain on her website:

"From what I understand, the proposed book is not criticism or review of Harry Potter's world, which would be entirely legitimate – neither I nor anybody connected with Harry Potter has ever tried to prevent such works being published. It is, we believe, a print version of the website, except now the information that was freely available to everybody is to become a commercial enterprise.

It is not reasonable, or legal, for anybody, fan or otherwise, to take an author's hard work, re-organize their characters and plots, and sell them for their own commercial gain. However much an individual claims to love somebody else's work, it does not become theirs to sell."

Ah-ha. The lexicon, claims Rowling, has no original content. So perhaps Rowling *does* own Harry Potter - the Harry Potter described in her books. If fanfic fans want to build on that Harry Potter, and create something original, then there are no problems. So all you fans of Harry Potter that want to write some stories, breathe easy, JK won't be coming for you!

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by rivka, Goodreads employee (last edited Apr 16, 2008 09:50PM) (new)

rivka All the published Star Wars books have been licensed -- so have all the Star Trek novels. Publishing fanfic without permission has never been legal, but when it is "published" non-commercially, most copyright/trademark holders prefer not to prosecute. But just try to publish your own Star Trek novel and see how far you get. ;)

Criticism, reviews, etc. are different, because they take advantage of the fair use exception. Cutting and pasting large percentages of an author's works doesn't qualify.

Rowling has always been one of the authors who accepts the existence of fanfic, and does not act to stop it or to prosecute fanfic writers -- she actually supports it!

message 2: by Pranesh (new)

Pranesh Prakash IAAL. You are ignoring the the legal aspects of copyright and trying to work on a common sense approach to copyright. Unfortunately, that actually muddles things up.

A basic rundown of the issues:
1. Fan fiction, by and large, comes within the ambit of copyright infringement, as "copying" (which need not be literal copying) happens. It is a different matter that many authors choose not to prosecute for it.
2. Copying can be defended against on grounds of fair use. I can say, it's true that I copied the character of Harry Potter, but what I did was fair use, and hence what I have done is not illegal.
3. Having original content in addition to the copying (of the Harry Potter characters) is not going to save you from a case of copyright infringement unless you can show that you used the copied material in a transformative manner. Most fan fiction, especially if it is sold, would not pass that test.
4. The encyclopedia is, in my opinion, fair use. The encyclopedia is not a substitute for the original books, and is only an aid for researchers and afficionados. It does not resort to copying of the expression but only takes the ideas expressed in the book. Just because it is being sold for profit doesn't in an of itself make it illegal. Unfortunately, there are American cases that go both ways. Specifically, one involving a Seinfeld quiz book seems to place this encyclopedia in the illegal copying category. Let's hope the court sees sense.

Oh, and as an aside, George Lucas had a problem with fans of the Strategic Defense Initiative calling it "Star Wars".

message 3: by Omg (new)

Omg Didn't JK Rowling come from nothing just a few years ago? I heard she was writing the first Harry Potter notes on napkins... She is making a ridiculous amount of money off these books.

Put it to rest, lady. The world would be so much more kind without these crony capitalist types.

The books and movies are entertaining, but come on, there are so many MORE important things in the world. What is she going to do with all her money in 10 years when there is no oil and clean water is on the decline? Also, you can't take all your money with you to the grave.


message 4: by Wayne Baxter (new)

Wayne Baxter Yes as nut job as she is, for letting 14yr olds girls to shape the world that she created, the Harry Potter universe is her intellectual property. She sets the basis as to who may exploit her creation of how it is exploited.

message 5: by Wayne Baxter (last edited Apr 25, 2008 05:39PM) (new)

Wayne Baxter OMG said:"Put it to rest, lady. The world would be so much more kind without these crony capitalist types."

She isn't asking for a cut. She is against anyone profiting off her work. Yeah, now that I've put it in digits I realize how that must sound. She isn't about the money. She's got some Cok-a-may-mee idea that now this universe has been formed the fans should do with it as they will. If a person is trying to make a buck she doesn't she see that person as a fan. Yes, the idea is stupid but it doesn't have anything to do with money.

message 6: by Masteranang (new)

Masteranang I am truly inspired by this online journal! Extremely clear clarification of issues is given and it is open to every living soul

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