Having filed suit against Muskegon, Mich.—based publisher RDR Books last fall, J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. saw their case tried in U.S. District court in Manhattan last week. The suit centers on RDR’s intended publication of The Harry Potter Lexicon by Steven Vander Ark, a detailed, alphabetical compilation of the various characters, spells and places in the Harry Potter universe.
At the heart of the suit is Rowling and Warner Bros.’ contention that the Lexicon infringes on Rowling’s copyrighted novels, companion books and other materials. In opening remarks, plaintiffs’ lead counsel Dale Cendali said they would show that the Lexicon “takes too much and does too little” with Rowling’s work, while defense counsel Anthony Falzone countered that Vander Ark had met the standards of fair use.
During Rowling’s highly anticipated testimony, she called the Lexicon manuscript a “travesty,” saying that it added only “facetious asides and etymologies of the easiest kind.” She also underlined the importance of the case for all authors’ rights and confessed that the lawsuit had taken a toll on her own writing. Vander Ark later defended the Lexicon as a “ready reference” for Potter fans and said that he looked forward to reading Rowling’s own long-planned encyclopedia.
RDR publisher Roger Rapoport was questioned on topics relating to the book’s intended publication; in answer to allegations that he tried to keep the Lexicon secret from the publishers of Rowling’s novels, Rapoport said, “We don’t generally talk about our books until they’re ready to go.”
Publishing executives—Suzanne Murphy of Scholastic (for the plaintiffs) and Bruce Harris, formerly of Workman and Crown (a paid witness for the defense)—and academics took the stand as expert witnesses, giving opinions on whether the Lexicon might compete with Rowling’s works and the degree to which it borrows from the source material compared to other companion books.
During rebuttal, Rowling objected to the idea that her fame meant she had less control of her creations. “Somehow because my work is successful, I’ve weakened my own right to copyright?” she asked.
The parties agreed to a May 9 deadline for filing additional documents to Judge Robert Patterson Jr., so a ruling isn’t expected for some time.