Friday, February 29, 2008

JK Rowling sues publisher

News in the publishing world about authors and Web site creators always concerns me. Here's a summary of the story appearing today at
"In papers filed for a lawsuit in Manhattan, J.K. Rowling says she feels betrayed by a fan, Steven Vander Ark, for his role in trying to publish an unauthorized reference work, Harry Potter Lexicon.

"Vander Ark is editor of a Web site containing a fan-created collection of essays and encyclopedic material on the Potter universe, including lists of spells and potions found in the books, a catalog of magical creatures and a who's who in the wizarding world."
At first (and setting aside the debate over the Harry Potter series), I thought J.K. Rowling has made enough money. She's the first billionaire author in the world. She shouldn't hurt this poor guy from making some money too.

But then I decided, he's not creating something original himself. He's creating something based on Rowling's original work.

Hmm. I'm concerned about derivative rights, which are reserved and protected for the author under copyright law. Here's what the law says:
"Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create, a new version of that work."
He argues that his Web site is the only fan-based site for which Rowling has shown support, although "unofficial," since they do not have any sort of correspondence or written agreement. Thus, her friendly toleration of his fan site may jeopardize her defense since it could be argued she indirectly authorized him to create a new version of her work--the Web site, and now, the compilation. It seems he has a plausible argument.

However, I believe that a fan Web site built for fun is different than publishing a book for profit as Vander Ark is attempting to do, and therefore infringes on Rowling's derivative rights in her work.

What do you think?