Despite Judge Robert P. Patterson’s calling the lawsuit a “so-called three-day trial" at one point during Tuesday’s proceedings, on Wednesday the remaining witnesses took the stand—including J.K. Rowling once more—and closing arguments were delivered in Rowling and Warner Brothers’ trial vs. RDR Books. Although the trial is over, both sides have until May 9 to submit legal paperwork to Judge Patterson, so a decision in the case won’t be forthcoming anytime soon.
Wednesday did prove to be a book-lover’s dream, beginning with Judge Patterson referencing Charles Dickens’s Bleak House in his opening comments—in an oblique comment on the way that lengthy trials can ruin lives—as well as Shakespeare’s tragedies, which he recalled his father reading to him when he was young. Building on comments he made at the end of the previous day’s proceedings, Patterson reiterated that he felt this was a case that “could be settled and should be settled,” and that it would only take “a little imagination” to make that happen.
The case proceeded regardless, and literary references continued to surface, as two academics took the stand and offered opposing testimonies on the efficacy of Steven Vander Ark’s Harry Potter Lexicon as a reference guide to literature. First up was Dr. Janet Sorensen, a professor of literature at the University of California, Berkeley, who defined a reference guide to literature as a work that would help “illuminate layers of meaning” in a book, citing Milton’s Paradise Lost and Pamela by Samuel Richardson as early examples of books that generated companion titles.
During cross-examination by plaintiff lawyer Dale Cendali of O’Melveny & Myers, Sorensen also pointed out that Richardson himself had written a companion book to Pamela, “because he was disappointed with the others out there,” a seeming reference to Rowling’s own ability to write a Potter encyclopedia if she is dissatisfied with the Lexicon’s quality. Sorensen made reference to the numerous companion books published about Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books and C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia tales, both fictional worlds, saying that the Lexicon fit into a “spectrum” of reference materials offering varying degrees of insight, analysis and information.
Sorensen additionally testified that she first read the Harry Potter novels as part of her preparation for the trial and found the Lexicon manuscript useful as a “memory refresher” when trying to keep the various characters straight. While she acknowledged that the Lexicon offered little in the way of analysis or criticism of Rowling’s work, she maintained that its core value was its ability to organize and synthesize Rowling’s expansive, rich universe.
Following Sorensen on the stand was Jeri Johnson, senior tutor and fellow at Oxford University’s Exeter College. During questioning from Cendali, Johnson said that the "most striking difference” between the Lexicon and other literary reference works is that “these [other] books wouldn’t take, in substance or in quantity, from the source material as this book takes.” She also was unable to find a correct label to place on the Lexicon, saying that it didn’t meet the standards of a lexicon, index, dictionary, encyclopedia or other standard reference work.
Unlike Sorensen, Johnson found the Lexicon “extremely frustrating” to use, adding that the chapter references that directed readers back to Rowling’s books were sometimes wrong and that she also took issue with the few etymologies it offered. During cross-examination by David Hammer, lead attorney for the defense, Johnson was questioned on her statements that called humorous additions to the Lexicon “condescending” and consisting of “weak waggishness.” She conceded that young readers might find this type of humor funny, as well as the Lexicon’s content potentially useful.
Rowling then took the stand for rebuttal and offered impassioned words in support of her rights, though the questions and answers were frequently objected to by the defense as not directly addressing earlier testimony. (At one point Cendali asked Hammer, “Are you trying to suppress Ms. Rowling?” to which he replied, “That seems to be impossible.”) Rowling contended that because the “fictional facts” in her series are of her own invention, the need to protect the manner in which they are used was all the more important. “These things have no existence outside my language and turns of phrase,” she said, later adding, “Are we or are we not the owners of our own work?”
When asked if she felt that the Lexicon had any entertainment value, Rowling replied, “I think there are funny things in there, and I wrote them.” She also objected to the idea that her fame somehow meant she had less of a right to her own creative content. “Somehow because my work is successful, I’ve weakened my own right to copyright?” she asked. “This would inevitably lead to a slippery slope.”
Following closing arguments by Cendali and Anthony Falzone of the Stanford University Law School Fair Use Project, the parties agreed on the May 9 deadline for filing additional documents. Before adjourning the trial, Judge Patterson quipped, “I may need a reference guide to this case.”