Saturday, November 3, 2007

Harry Potter and the Impending Lawsuit

Disclaimer: Wizards Wireless has no plans to write a Harry Potter encyclopedia any time soon... and we don't recommend it for anyone with a fear of lawyers!

J.K. Rowling recently posted on her website her objection to Harry Potter companion books. This initially struck me as fine... I saw her point that she was planing to write an encyclopedia of her own and she wanted to be sure that the money from such an endeavor went to charity.

But, then I found out what the specific book was that she was objecting to. It's by Steve Vander Ark of the Harry Potter Lexicon. If you visit the Lexicon, (which I highly recommend if you haven't) you will find an online Harry Potter encyclopedia written by a fan (who happens to be a librarian) and several industrious staff members. The Lexicon is extremely well researched, documented, and dare I say, scholarly. What they are proposing to do (as I understand it) is to convert their extensive online material into a low tech off-line portable device: a book. I'm sure the book will be well researched, full of citations, detailed and scholarly (which has not been true of all the Harry Potter companion books that have been published so far).

The Leaky Cauldron has been covering this story in depth. If you want to read more about it, (and see names and dates and lawyer memos) the original article is here, an update is here, and a second update is here. For Rowling's post about the book, see this page on her official website. Vander Ark's publisher RDR Books, talks about the issue here.

But what has me confused is this... isn't it okay for someone else to write a book about another author's work as long as they give quotes and references (and don't republish the original verbatim)? Don't we have countless scholarly works in this vein? On a less scholarly note, what about episode guides to T.V. shows that are written by fans? However, since no one in the J.K. Rowling/Warner Brothers camp has seen the book... it's unclear what the format is.

My feeling is that fans understand the difference between a Harry Potter encyclopedia written by J.K. Rowling (who can add new information to the story and characters) and one that is a catalog of facts that have been published thus far. Why make such a big deal about it? Vander Ark's book is now receiving far more attention (and will probably sell better) than it would have otherwise.

What do you think?

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