Judge in Harry Potter Lawsuit Urges Settlement

Judge in Harry Potter Lawsuit Urges Settlement

The judge hearing British author J. K. Rowling’s copyright-infringement lawsuit against an unauthorized Harry Potter encyclopedia urged both sides to settle the case April 17. On the final day of the three-day trial in Federal District Court in Manhattan, Judge Robert P. Patterson suggested that appeals may delay resolution for years, Bloomberg News reported April 18. “Litigation isn’t always the best way to solve things,” he said. “The lawyers get caught up in the case, and the clients are part of the baggage. I just feel this case could be settled, and should be settled.”

Rowling and Warner Brothers Entertainment are suing RDR Books, which planned to publish The Harry Potter Lexicon, written by Steven Jan Vander Ark, who based the work on a website that he launched in 2000 while working as a librarian at Byron Center (Mich.) Christian School. At the end of three hours of testimony, Vander Ark broke into tears when asked about what the suit has done to his relationship with the community of Harry Potter fans, the Associated Press reported April 15. “It’s been difficult because there has been a lot of criticism, obviously, and that was never the intention.”

Rowling contends that the book relies excessively on material from her seven novels and two guides, and will harm sales of her own Potter encyclopedia that she plans to publish. However, the day after Vander Ark’s emotional testimony, she told the judge that she had been misunderstood, the New York Times said April 17. “I never ever once wanted to stop Mr. Vander Ark from doing his own guide— never ever,” she said. “Do your book, but please, change it so it does not take as much of my work.” Stating that her suit was motivated by outrage rather than money, she testified that the prospect of Vander Ark’s guide upset her to the point of causing writer’s block.

The fair use issues at the center of the case promoted attorney Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, to serve as RDR’s cocounsel on a pro bono basis. In his opening arguments, Falzone called the Lexicon a “transformative” reference work protected by the First Amendment, the New York Law Journal reported April 15. “The lexicon, whether on the Web or in book form, is a valuable tool to find and remember details from this elaborate world,” he said. “Profit was never the point. They did this because it was a labor of love.” He claimed that Rowling now wanted to exercise “the power to make the lexicon disappear from our world, never to be seen in libraries or bookstores.”

However, plaintiff attorney Dale Cendali called RDR’s use “neither fair nor useful—it takes too much and does too little.” She said the lexicon was “massive, wholesale, willful copying beyond anything that could possibly be excused by the fair use doctrine,” and suggested that RDR and Vander Ark had tried to shield themselves by “slapping” a research label on a book that contained “virtually no analysis or commentary” but only wholesale lifting of text from the books.

Vander Ark, 50, left his librarian position shortly before the suit was filed to concentrate on the book, the Detroit Free Press reported April 9. He is in the process of moving to England, where he is researching a guide to real places in Britain that resemble the settings in the Harry Potter books.

Judge Patterson, who is hearing the case without a jury, gave the lawyers three weeks to file additional documents before ruling on the suit.

Posted on April 18, 2008. Discuss.