Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Lexiconfrontation

That book over there? It's a book you'll never be able to read, thanks to J.K. Rowling. It's a Harry Potter Lexicon, a print version of information available for a long time on a fan website--a website that was praised by J.K. Rowling before she decided that revenue was more important than anything else. And this week, a judge decided that fair use didn't support non-fiction works of literary annotation, explanation, or criticism, apparently, since he ruled in favor of Rowling and basically banned the book's publication.

My response? Well, I won't be doing anything to give Rowling any more of my money, nor will I be carrying any further Rowling material in my store. I would have thought an author would be pleased to see a guidebook designed to make her work more accessible and enjoyable to large numbers of readers, but Rowling didn't see beyond the dollar signs. And that makes me want to deny her a few of the dollars she values above all else... including literary freedom and fair use.

And let's hope that the author is able to find an attorney to appeal U.S. District Judge Robert P. Patterson's verdict that subverts justice; I would hope an appeal would reverse this freedom-of-the-press-stifling ruling.

In the meantime, I invite you to join me in seeing to it that no more of your money flows into Ms. Rowling's accounts... apparently money is all she understands, so it's the only way to make a point to her.

6 comments:

JaniceG said...

I would have thought an author would be pleased to see a guidebook designed to make her work more accessible and enjoyable to large numbers of readers, but Rowling didn't see beyond the dollar signs.

I have to disagree with you strongly on this one: fan tributes are one thing but publishing a book featuring an author's characters and settings without the author's permission or participation is quite another. However sincere the compiler is, he's using another person's creative intellectual property to make a profit himself -- it's not like they were going to give away the book they were publishing.

Note that the author himself was aware of the potential problem, to quote from coverage earlier in the trial (http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2008-04-15-harrypottertrial_N.htm): "During his testimony Tuesday, Vander Ark acknowledged that he, too, had substantial concerns all along about whether publishing an encyclopedia based on Rowling's Potter universe would constitute copyright infringement.

"He said he was talked into doing it by the publishing company."

cliff said...

Ah, but he was only using her characters, settings, and terminology in a nonfiction reference designed to clarify the roles that each played within her fictional universe. That is, his work was a scholarly adjunct to her work, not a replacement or a derivative work intended to supplant further fictional contributions she might have made to the universe. Works of explanation, analysis, or reference should be vigorously encouraged under fair use provision. Nothing the author did in any way deprived Scrooge... err, Rowling of any income; quite the contrary, it would have made her works even more accessible to a larger group of readers.

JaniceG said...

Works of explanation, analysis, or reference should be vigorously encouraged under fair use provision.

I agree, and apparently so does the judge, to quote from his ruling: ""While the lexicon, in its current state, is not a fair use of the Harry Potter works, reference works that share the lexicon's purpose of aiding readers of literature generally should be encouraged rather than stifled," he said.

"He added that he ruled in Rowling's favor because the "Lexicon appropriates too much of Rowling's creative work for its purposes as a reference guide.""

Nothing the author did in any way deprived Scrooge... err, Rowling of any income

To me, it's not a matter of depriving her of income - it's a matter of riding on the popularity of her work to increase his own income, or at least that of his publisher.

Lanny said...

The judges ruling strikes me as odd as there are scads of similar works derived from Tolkien's work. I can't really see how this is any different.

I recall the first edition of the Tolkien Companion contained entries that included several incorrectly drawn conclusions about characters in The Lord of the RIngs prior to the publication of the Silmarillion.
And yet, THAT work went unchallenged at the time. The author did correct himself in subsequent editions, though. But, I digress.

Of course it's possible that a great number of these reference works and commentaries have been published with permission or by financial arrangement, but certainly not all. The bookstore shelves are loaded with Tokien related books. This was especially true when the movies were in release.

Again, how is the Potter case so different?

JaniceG said...

The judges ruling strikes me as odd as there are scads of similar works derived from Tolkien's work. I can't really see how this is any different.

To quote from an article in The Times: "This “lexicon” consists of lifting the names, situations and plotlines in the novels, overwhelmingly in Rowling's own words, putting them in alphabetical order, and selling the result as if it was the fan's own work. As the judge said, there are almost no extra insights, no extra information, hardly even the courtesy of quotation marks. Van der Ark has simply taken someone else's hard work and rearranged it, badly, as his own."

cliff said...

I saw that statement (from a judge whose judgment I already question), but the samples that were offered by one of the new sources indicated that to be a not wholly fair description. Of course he listed names and referred to plots, but his approach was encyclopedic, not narrative. I see that as worlds different.