On Fair Use
Rowling’s latest attempt is to try to prevent the publication of “The Harry Potter Lexicon,” a fan-created reference book to all things having to do with the world found in the Harry Potter books… As long as the guidebook creators are not copying Rowling’s words verbatim, but are merely creating a guide or a critique of Rowling’s work, it’s not a copyright issue. Rowling’s real problem with the guidebook appears to be a different issue. She had no problem when the Lexicon was just a fan website. However, when they wanted to sell a book, she became upset. So the real problem appears to be that she doesn’t want anyone else to make any money — but that’s not what copyright law is designed to do. Newspapers make money off of books all the time by publishing reviews, and we all know that’s legal. There is no difference in creating a reference book. Rowling complains that this work will make it difficult for her to publish her own guidebook: “I cannot approve of ‘companion books’ or ‘encyclopedias’ that seek to preempt my definitive Potter reference book….” However… that’s silly and has nothing to do with copyright law: “two products in the same market isn’t called pre-emption—the word is competition.” And, generally, competition is something that we should encourage, as it drives all competitors to provide better products. If Rowling really believes she cannot compete with a fan reference guide, that’s hardly the fault of the other reference guide. Given the interest in Harry Potter, it’s hard to believe that an “official” reference guide given Rowling’s endorsement wouldn’t outsell any fan-created version.
Neil Gaiman, a famous author in his own right adds:
My heart is on the side of the people doing the unauthorised books, probably because the first two books I did were unauthorised, and one of them, Ghastly Beyond Belief, would have been incredibly vulnerable had anyone wanted to sue Kim Newman and me on the grounds that what we did, in a book of quotations that people might not have wanted to find themselves in, went beyond Fair Use.
And Orson Scott Card has also weighed in:
It’s true that we writers borrow words from each other but we’re supposed to admit it and not pretend we’re original when we’re not. I took the word ansible from Ursula K. LeGuin, and have always said so. Rowling, however, denies everything.
Rowling’s hypocrisy is so thick I can hardly breathe: Prior to the publication of each novel, there were books about them that were no more intrusive than Lexicon. I contributed to one of them, and there was no complaint about it from Rowling or her publishers because they knew perfectly well that these fan/scholar ancillary publications were great publicity and actually boosted sales.
But now the Harry Potter series is over, and Rowling claims that her “creative work” is being “decimated.”
Of course, she doesn’t claim that it’s the Lexicon that is harming her “creative work” (who’s she borrowing from this time?); it’s the lawsuit itself! And since she chose to bring the suit, whose fault is it? If she had left Vander Ark alone to publish his little book and make his little bit of money, she wouldn’t be distracted from her next novel.
But no, Rowling claims Vander Ark’s book “constitutes wholesale theft of 17 years of my hard work.”
Seventeen years? What a crock. Apparently she includes in that total the timeframe in which she was reading ? and borrowing from ? the work of other writers.
It is true, we do stand on the shoulders of others.
Picture by sinosplice