J. K. Rowling is set to appear in American court in order to guard her copyright on the Harry Potter series. Love the series or hate it, the issue does not concern the seven-volume set specifically. Rather, it concerns a Harry Potter encyclopedia – one intended and the other, reportedly 400 pages, already written. RDR Books, a small publisher located in Michigan, plans to publish an encyclopedia based off of the “Harry Potter Lexicon,” an online reference of the Harry Potter world. However, J.K. claims that she intends to write an encyclopedia. Further, she also intends for the proceeds to benefit charity.
And well, here we have the main issue – money.
RDR Books and Steven Vander Ark, the creator of the unofficial encyclopedia and the editor of the “Harry Potter Lexicon,” intend to profit from his guide. J.K. is reportedly richer than the Queen and has previously written two smaller books, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (2001) and “Quidditch Through the Ages” (2001), for the Comic Relief charity. Her financial situation and her previous actions make a solid backing for her statements about the proceeds benefiting charity. Well, that and the fact that she announced it to the world pretty much guarantees that J.K. will follow through with her statements.
What could the outcome of this case be? Consider that J.K.’s encyclopedia is not even written yet, let alone slated for publishing. I have no doubt that she will eventually write the encyclopedia, but the fact is that the Copyright Act, specifically the fair use defense, which is what I’m assuming RDR will use, will look at the Lexicon encyclopedia’s effect on the market value of the copyrighted work. The copyrighted work is J.K.’s encyclopedia. Her unwritten encyclopedia. I suppose J.K’s encyclopedia could have an anticipated market value, but since it does not even exist yet, it does not actually have a market value.
I’m not sure who will win this case, but I do know that whatever the result, this lawsuit has the huge potential to change the way authors view and react towards fan activity.