The Corner Office: Battling the 'Potter' Goliath
The Harry Potter Lexicon (HP-Lexicon.org) was started by librarian and “Harry Potter” enthusiast Steve Vander Ark as an online index of everything you ever wanted to know about the famous boy wizard and his imaginary, magical world, as told in the mega-selling “Harry Potter” book series.
When Michigan-based, independent publisher RDR Books attempted to turn the site—visited by more than 25 million people annually and at one time praised by “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling—into a printed encyclopedia, it grew into a David versus Goliath legal battle, pitting Rowling and Warner Bros. (which owns the intellectual property rights to the “Potter” books and movies) against Vander Ark and the publisher.
Rowling sued RDR, claiming that publishing the Lexicon Web site as a book infringed on her copyright. The court ultimately agreed with her and barred the book’s publication. RDR appealed the ruling, then withdrew that action, and eventually opted instead to publish a new, sanctioned version of the book titled “The Lexicon,” which hit bookshelves in January.
Here, RDR’s publisher, Roger Rapoport, discusses how his small company handled the international media blitz that surrounded the legal battle and why he decided to publish a new version of the book that seemed destined to never reach bookshelves.
● Why was the first “Lexicon” book considered copyright infringement, but the second, published version is not?
Roger Rapoport: The new book complies with the fair use guidelines that are part of New York Federal District Judge Robert Patterson’s decision on the earlier book. …. The judge ruled that lexicons are legal and added that the author of a fictional work does not have a monopoly on companion, nonfiction works such as A-Z encyclopedias or lexicons. He then spelled out, for the first time in a federal court decision, how reference books of this kind could be acceptable under fair use. It was those guidelines that Steve followed when writing this new “Lexicon.” Our opponents … issued a statement saying that the new book was fine with them.