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NY Times: JK Rowling criticizes fan accused of stealing her work

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction and Writing Resource' started by JadeSolo, Apr 14, 2008.

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  1. JadeSolo

    JadeSolo Manager Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Sep 20, 2002
    "ZOMG! This isn't Star Wars!" No, but I figured this was an interesting issue for discussion here, given what we do in our spare time (and during class...).

    [link=http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/14/books/14cnd-rowling.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin]Here's the New York Times article[/link].

    In a nutshell, a fan created a Harry Potter lexicon on his website and now wants to publish it for money.

    Main issues on Rowling's side are:
    (1) she wants to make her own encyclopedia, which could take 10 years, but she says she'll donate the $ to charity
    (2) the encyclopedia is just a rehashing of her work, with nothing new added - blatant copyright infringement (3) she's a writer, and she's concerned about her characters

    Main issues on the fan's side are:
    (1) the lexicon includes original work - commentaries, analysis, etc etc etc
    (2) Fair use! Literary commentary!


    My initial thoughts:
    (1) If anyone ever tried to publish the "Earth Words and Their Equivalent" thread as a book, you bet your sweet ass LFL would slap a lawsuit on that person's head. How about Wookieepedia?
    (2) I can't wait to see what kind of original commentary is revealed during these proceedings.

    I have to say, though, the one thing that really bothered me was this line: Ms. Rowling has generally encouraged the work of her fans, even handing out awards to fan Web sites and acknowledging that on occasion she herself has used Mr. Vander Ark?s Web site to jog her memory while writing.

    What? I don't know about anyone else, but I would NOT rely on a fan's website to provide me with information for my books. Who knows what he's been misconstruing?
     
  2. leiamoody

    leiamoody Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 8, 2005
    I'm surprised she admits to using his website as reference material.That seems rather lazy to me. Keeping track of one's own fictional universe is difficult. But there are better ways to access character histories and other materials. Besides, she's worth a fair amount. Couldn't she hire an assistant to do the research for her?

    But the fan is stupid to think he could actually make a few bucks off his efforts. Yes, fans put a lot of time into their various productions, creative and otherwise. But the smart ones know there's no chance of getting paid for their endeavors. Copyright and intellectual property laws are in place for a reason.
     
  3. LilyHobbitJedi

    LilyHobbitJedi Jedi Knight star 5

    Registered:
    Aug 29, 2005
    I've actually been to this Harry Potter Lexicon many times as it really is a fantastic spot to get some quick HP info. I don't agree with the webmaster's idea of publishing it thought, and I also can understand why Rowling would be against it. And as it is her creation it's only right (and legal) that she be able to dictate whether or not the Lexicon can publish anything.
     
  4. JediNemesis

    JediNemesis Jedi Padawan star 4

    Registered:
    Mar 27, 2003
    I think the thing about using his website for reference is understandable - she knows the characters' motivations, their life stories, all the details that she takes for granted but never made it into the books. Fans, on the other hand, tend to get a lot more geeky about chronicling exact timelines, maps, names of very minor characters . . . I'd guess if she has used the Lexicon for reference, it was for some detail like that.

    As far as the book is concerned, she's completely in the right. The work is hers, and if this guy's book is substantially reproducing large bits of the text, that's him in the wrong. Literary commentary is fine, but it should be just that: a commentary, not a footnoted copy of the original.

    And I understand that the guy may have put a lot of work into this, but fans do fan-things because it's fun and useful in weird circumstances, and it's a little weird to see someone who professes to be an enormous JKR fan attempting to exploit his favourite author for money.
     
  5. Alexis_Wingstar

    Alexis_Wingstar Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Sep 16, 2006
    I think J.K. Rowling is well within her rights both legally and morally. Plus, she's been one of the most supportive authors of fanficdom. This kid should never have tried to publish that lexicon for money. It's clear infringement. No matter how good it is... and I assume since the author herself used it for a quick reminder, it had to be excellent (never been to the site)... it's still plainly infringement if he used much of the stuff from Rowling's works and just added commentary.
     
  6. Jaina_Solo_15

    Jaina_Solo_15 Jedi Master star 6

    Registered:
    Dec 5, 2002
    They kind of took her comment a bit out of context. On her website she mentions using the Lexicon as a quick reference, like if she's out writing at a cafe, she'd dash online to check a quick fact, rather than having to go back home to go through her stuff. Not something worthy of a research assistant, just a quick memory jog, I think.


    What concerns me the most about this is the ominous way folks associated with JKR keep throwing around a phrase that goes a lot like "If the Lexicon gets published, I and a lot of other authors who haven't really cared about fan fic, will be going crazy militant about cracking down on it, m'kay?"

    And I understand that authors have to protect their property against things like this. I really do. Not that JKR really needs the money, but it's the point of the issue and that other authors aren't as filthy rich as JKR and do actually need the money. I'm not saying that. I don't think the Lexicon is necessarily in the right here. Especially since JKR isn't cool with it. I just don't want to see regular fans who aren't trying to sell derivative works to get smacked with a cease and desist on the fan fic front because of this.

    Like that lady who wrote that Star Wars fan fic and put it up for sale on Amazon, this just ain't cool ya'll.
     
  7. leiamoody

    leiamoody Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 8, 2005
    Hmm, I see. I only took the comment at face value. I don't know anything about Rowling.
     
  8. Jaina_Solo_15

    Jaina_Solo_15 Jedi Master star 6

    Registered:
    Dec 5, 2002
    Alas, I have to admit to visiting her website way too much. :p
     
  9. ardavenport

    ardavenport Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 16, 2004
    The line between pro-fic and fan-fic still seems to be evolving, but one clear division that seems to be emerging is between profit making and non-profit hobby. The first is a direct threat to the author's livelihood. The second has some potential for that, but the numbers are generally so low as to not be much competition to the pro-works.

    I'm inclined to think that Rowling will be successful in this lawsuit.
     
  10. LLL

    LLL Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 16, 2000
    *shudders at the implications for fandom*

    I would never accept any money for anything related to fandom.

    Charitable contributions, charitable contributions, charitable contributions.
     
  11. jmsbndgrl

    jmsbndgrl Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 31, 2004
    I think the ironic piece to this story is that a couple years ago, Rowling gave the lexicon the "fansite of the month" award on her website. That was back when I was active in that fandom (haven't been since the release of book 7).

    I will say, that anyone who is truly a "fanatic" of Harry Potter has known since before book seven that Rowling said she planned to write an encyclopedia for charity concerning her universe. So it is a bit bold to say you are going to publish your own when you know this other is going to be coming out somewhere down the line. And the Lexicon was (and I think still is), part of the floo network which includes one of the top HP news sites, so you would have to be blind not to have read the encyclopedia news. Not to mention, not a very good fan, if you did not pick up on it. However, even if Rowling never gets around to writing it, it doesn't matter. The point is Harry Potter is hers and she has a right to protect her property. She has been nice enough to let fans play in that universe, but she does have to draw a line somewhere and the Lexicon has pushed too far.

    I think if the Lexicon book was purely a commentary (almost like a critique) on the book they could make a case to go ahead with publishing it. After all, prior to the release of book seven there were books about "Harry Potter the Mystery Revealed, (note this is not the title, but it was something like that)" attempting to piece together the clues in the book to figure out what the ultimate conclusion would be. I never read these books, but it was my understanding that they might have cited passages, but it was clear that they were quoting Rowling's work. And they were only using the passage to make some point in their own original commentary. Now one could argue that is stretching the line too, which might be what the Lexicon is going to try, but I think what the Lexicon is ultimately trying to do is different from this. I have been to the Lexicon, and rather than it being commentary based, in my opinion it tends to be an outline of facts we know or can derive from the books. It is essentially like having a databank of fact from the book and in some cases large parts of the book are copied. The issue is this databank is built by a fan rather than Rowling herself. And that means it has crossed into the realm of fan fiction. Essentially it is an AU creation (that may be close to the truth, but since it isn't by the original author we do not know that.). It is one thing to have a fansite out there that has these facts to show your support of the fandom, it is a whole other issue to publish it for money.

    It looks to me, that this Lexicon book is a case of a fan having delusions of grandeur while being wrapped up in greed. Yes, he put a lot of time into it, but so do other fan fiction writers on their own stories. However, our time is spent to support our fandom of choice and/or bring a smile to ourselves and fellow fans. It is not for monetary gain. At the end of the day, the universes we write in belong to their original authors and they deserve the credit and reward for their creations. Being able to write fan fiction is a privilege granted to us by the authors of the original work. Unfortunately, sometimes people forget this and we end up with the case you see here.
     
  12. Miana Kenobi

    Miana Kenobi Admin Emeritus star 8 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Apr 5, 2000
    On that tangent, what about the hundreds of people who helped him with the lexicon? The people who wrote the essays, people who checked facts, the artists who's artwork he's using? Was he planning on giving them a cut?

    The moment I heard about this, the first thing out of my mouth was "that's SO dumb." And it is; you DON'T try to copyright and sell other people's work. That's just asking for a world of trouble, and it's just common sense. I know some people want to "leave their mark" in their fandom... but being remembered for being "the guy dumb enough to go into a legal battle with JK Rowling" is just a bad idea.

    Edit:

    Leaky & the others broke the Lexicon from the Floo network not too long ago.
     
  13. Jinngerbread

    Jinngerbread Jedi Padawan star 4

    Registered:
    Sep 2, 2007
    It really is bizarre how this guy thinks he can get away with it and win. I mean honestly, it was her creation to start with and the thing that really blows is that I remember reading that he asked her about publishing at some point and she said no and they went ahead and did it anyway.

    I've been monitoring the situation some, because I know it will have serious implications for other fandoms and before fanfiction has been seen as a live and let live by a lot of authors, with a few exceptions. Yet if these idiots win, people who don't want their work having fanfiction written (like Anne Rice, just as an example) will be even more justified in not wanting fans writing their own creative works in their universes.

    I really hope these guys don't ruin it for the rest of us and that Rowling gets to shut the guy down.

     
  14. Commander-DWH

    Commander-DWH Manager Emeritus star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 3, 2003
    I have been following this since November (including attending the open forum at GVSU where SVA and RDR Books gave their talk on the Lexicon), and all I have to say is that they haven't a leg to stand on. The test of fair use requires original analysis and criticism, and there just isn't any. How do I know this? I'm an unemployed college graduate who has read more legal documents in the last few months than she ever has in her life. :p

    Entire entries are practically lifted verbatim from JKR's work. It's not scholarly, it's not criticism, and to be quite frank, I would have been failed/in danger of expulsion if I'd ever tried handing in something of that quality with so much material blatantly plagiarized.

    My head hurts from reading trial summaries (and I am quite fascinated by this whole mess... it's astonishingly epic), so I don't have more coherent thoughts than those. But JKR is beyond 'well within her rights.'
     
  15. Miana Kenobi

    Miana Kenobi Admin Emeritus star 8 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Apr 5, 2000
    I'm just curious what lawyer was dumb enough to take this case...
     
  16. jmsbndgrl

    jmsbndgrl Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 31, 2004
    You are correct, I checked this fact last night before going to bed. Shows how long I have been out of the fandom. However, the Lexicon is still on the same server as Leaky and the rest of the floo network. They were not allowed to complete that split until after the court case was finished. So although Leaky doesn't feature them prominently (and rightfully so), the Lexicon is still "technically" a part of the network.
     
  17. Darthbane2007

    Darthbane2007 Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Oct 31, 2007
    All I have to say is, The guy is a ****.



    (Starred out the remaining letter. - Face)

     
  18. LLL

    LLL Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 16, 2000
    No matter who wins, the damage has already been done.

    Do you have any idea what JKR is spending in legal fees?? And doesn't every other licensor know it!

    :(
     
  19. LilyHobbitJedi

    LilyHobbitJedi Jedi Knight star 5

    Registered:
    Aug 29, 2005
    link=http://www.mugglenet.com/app/category/show/86]Here[/link] is more about the trial that s from the site MuggleNet.com.
     
  20. Commander-DWH

    Commander-DWH Manager Emeritus star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 3, 2003
    That would be the lawyers of the [link=http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/taxonomy/term/374]Stanford Fair Use Project[/link]. Their goal is to change the law through court precedent. Mind you, they haven't won yet. With them taking cases like this, I can understand why.

    Also, since I missed Alexis' comment last time- "This kid never should have tried to publish the Lexicon for money." One of the most depressing parts about this is that SVA is not a kid (he says so himself in some of the court filings :p). The guy is in his late 40's, I think. Up until recently, he was a middle school librarian, until he quit his job to move to London and pursue a career in writing. I'm honestly not quite sure what happened there, and he's the only one who can properly explain it. But he's far from being a child, and honestly ought to have known better.
     
  21. JadeSolo

    JadeSolo Manager Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Sep 20, 2002
    I didn't realize this had been going on for so long. Look at all the court filings! Is it sad that I'm excited about reading them? :p
     
  22. Commander-DWH

    Commander-DWH Manager Emeritus star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 3, 2003
    Hehe, excitement is totally legit. My personal favourite filing is the pie chart detailing how much of the Lexicon came directly from JKR's words. It's been accurately described as "OH SNAP" in pie chart form. :D
     
  23. TNPredsFan

    TNPredsFan Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 10, 2004
    The cherry on top of this debacle is the report that Steven Vander Ark initially refused the publishing deal because he believed it was copyright infringement, but he was assured it was legal by the publisher. It's pretty stupid to accept legal advice from a publisher who stands to profit off your work instead of a competent attorney. I think it's a bit telling that he still had doubts about the legality of the book since he insisted that his publishing contract contain an indemnity clause ([link=http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080415/ap_en_ot/harry_potter_lawsuit;_ylt=AhtxHAzIeKHu_JEIRKkBjaAPGBkF]source[/link]).

    A detailed summary of yesterday's testimony from Leaky News is [link=http://www.the-leaky-cauldron.org/2008/4/15/first-day-of-jkr-wb-vs-rdr-books-trial]here[/link].

    I can think of few authors that have been as supportive of fandom as JKR. You don't see George Lucas granting interviews to TFN like JKR has to Leaky News and Mugglenet or encouraging fandom activities like wizard rock and the like.

    edit: can't speel [face_plain]
     
  24. Darthbane2007

    Darthbane2007 Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Oct 31, 2007
    At least it wasn't Star Wars or the Batman franchise.
     
  25. rebel_cheese

    rebel_cheese Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 6, 2006
    My two cents:

    If he had attempted this through the participation or at least the blessings of J.K. Rowling and her worldwide publishers I wouldn't disagree with the decision to publish. He SHOULD have consulted with her by some means before trying to do this by some means or another. The fact that he didn't brought this mess upon him and Rowling and it has to be sorted out NOW. It probably will end soon because the guy has no chance at winning a clear copyright infringement case.

    Also, the fact that I've never heard of this publisher before makes me wonder about them . . . I think he may have been taken in by a scam or such and such.
     
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