I have been following the J.K. Rowling/Harry Potter Lexicon suit with some interest, and I even linked to a Slate article on the issue recently, as I recall. For those of you who haven’t been following, the Harry Potter Lexicon is a huge clearinghouse of information on all things Harry, compiled and maintained by dedicated fans of the book. Rowling likes it so much that she even gave it a fan award, and she has praised it numerous times in countless interviews, even admitting that she uses it as a writing resource.
However, when the Lexicon announced plans to publish a book compilation of the material, things went sour. Rowling has filed numerous injunctions trying to stop publication, and now the issue is dragging on, and on, and on. It’s definitely lowered my opinion of Rowling, and it also makes me wonder…what in the heck is going on?
Rowling claims that they are infringing on her copyrights. The Lexicon contends that their site, and the book, would be considered fair use, and I agree. There are numerous guides to the world of Tolkien, for example, which discuss characters, action, settings, and so forth, providing analysis and new perspectives for readers, and these are considered fair use. Likewise with Narnia and numerous other famous fantasy worlds. When people write good books, other people like to talk about them.
And a lot of sites are making a lot of money on Harry Potter, like, say, Mugglenet, which pulls in a handsome monthly income. Most of the big fan sites are, yes, by fans for fans, but they are also making a tidy profit, so don’t fool yourself about their altruistic intentions. And don’t let Rowling’s claim that she only stepped in when the Lexicon wanted to profit from their work impress you, because if she really cared about that, she’d have bigger fish to fry.
This case has potentially far-reaching repercussions for literary fans. Issues like fan fiction have long been contentious, but to seek an injunction against the publication of an encyclopedia is madness. Rowling says that it would cut into her plans for her own version of an encyclopedia, and before all this happened, I would say that she needn’t worry, because Harry Potter fans will buy anything that spills from her pen. After this, I’m not so sure. I probably wouldn’t buy her encyclopedia out of sheer spite, even though it will probably contain new and interesting information.
I can’t help but wonder if Rowling is using the suit to keep her name in the press, reminding people that she does still exist, as authors tend to fall off the radar once they complete something like a major seven book series. And she also champions a number of social causes, so maybe she thinks it would be a good idea to stay in the public eye. It’s ludicrous to suppose that she wants to protect profits. The woman is wealthier than the Queen of England, and I can’t imagine what she would do with even more money. Buy more money, perhaps?
I also wonder if Warner Brothers is perhaps pushing her into it, in a desire to protect their film franchise, which has been flagging a bit. American movie studios are, after all, a bit notoriously overzealous about their copyrights, and they have copyrighted the characters. Rowling’s publishers have also gotten a bit of a bad name with their determined efforts to weed out any use of Rowling’s characters and world, even attacking bookstores for holding “Harry Potter Parties,” claiming that Harry Potter is a protected trademark.
And…I hate to be the one to bring this up…but encyclopedias of the world of Harry Potter have already been published, in much the same vein. Rowling’s publisher is notorious for rabidly protecting her copyrights, which I understand, but they apparently haven’t taken issue with books like The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the World of Harry Potter, The Magical World of Harry Potter, The Sorcerer’s Companion, An Unofficial Muggle’s Guide to the Wizarding World, and Fact, Fiction, and Folklore in Harry Potter’s World, among numerous others. Why attack the Lexicon in particular?
This is one of those cases where the facts are probably obscured, because both sides aren’t talking too much about the case until it is settled. So there may be information that we don’t know about coming into play here. As far as I’m concerned, though, it stinks, and I hope that Rowling loses her suit. It seems like a lot of people agree.
If she doesn’t, I fear for the future of the publishing industry. And Harry Potter fandom can kiss all of its fan fiction sites goodbye.