Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Copyright Infringement Harry Potter Style

A 36 page children’s book from a now-deceased and totally obscure British author may have lead to Harry Potter. Last week, the Associated Press reported that J.K. Rowling and her publisher are being sued for copyright infringement.

The estate of Adrian Jacobs, who died penniless in 1997, alleges that Rowling’s fourth book, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” was lifted from “The Adventures of Willy the Wizard,” written by Jacobs in 1987. The trustee of Jacobs’ estate, Paul Allen, is suing for over $500 million pounds.

According to Rowling: “The claims that are made are not only unfounded but absurd, and I am disappointed that I, and my UK publisher Bloomsbury, are put in a position to have to defend ourselves.” Unfortunately for Jacobs’ estate, it will be hard to prove that Rowling did in fact plagiarize. Mere ideas are hard to copyright, and from the sound of it, that’s all Jacobs had. Wizard and magic lore is hardly unique intellectual property. Copyrights are given for the execution of a work.
Apparently, Allen’s attorney, Max Markson, has a different view. He was quoted saying he thinks it’s a billion-dollar case

1 comment:

  1. If DC Comics and Neil Gaiman didn't sue over "The Books of Magic" (which came out about five years before the first Harry Potter book) then I don't give much hope to Willy the Wizard's chances of prevailing.

    The Tim Hunter character in the Books of Magic is so visually and thematically close to Harry Potter (down to hair colour, glasses, owl companion, the broken home, the educational setting, etc. etc.) that it's almost impossible to imagine that Rowling hadn't read the graphic novel.

    However, she says she didn't, and Gaiman has publicly stated that he believes her, mostly on the basis of "the zeitgeist occasionally barfs up really weird coincidences" and, to paraphrase loosely, that "she'd have to be an complete idiot to copy it so closely".

    There are also literally dozens of pre-dating fantasy series about kids in magical schools of one sort or another, and Rowling herself has acknowledged her debt to the UK boys papers of the 30s and 40s, all of which feature boys in very-Hogwarts-like boarding school settings (see this George Orwell essay for more background: http://www.netcharles.com/orwell/essays/boysweeklies1.htm).

    So yeah, Willy, good luck