JKR/WB vs. RDR Books Trial: Author Neil Gaiman’s Thoughts


Apr 22, 2008

Posted by KristinTLC

Author Neil Gaiman has posted on his blog about the trial and fair use:

“Most commentary on the internet seems to break down into people picking sides based on personalities and opinions. As with most grey areas of law, it isn’t cut and dried, and even when an appeals court-sized decision is handed down, it probably won’t become cut and dried, because “Fair Use” is one of those things, like pornography, we are meant to know when we see them.”

Mr. Gaiman remarks that the first two books he did were unauthorised, and as such, “my heart is on the side of the people doing the unauthorised books”.

47 Responses to JKR/WB vs. RDR Books Trial: Author Neil Gaiman’s Thoughts

Avatar Image says:

So that seems to be a fairly self-serving point of view from someone who has benefited from those grey areas. It is hardly surprising that “his heart” is on RDR/SVA’s side. If indeed we “know it when we see it” I personally see this as very clear cut plagiarism. More importantly, so does Jo, whose opinion should be paramount, as it’s her work being plagiarized. She knew it when she saw it.

Avatar Image says:

I don’t understand how can someone’s heart lie on the side of people doing the unauthorised books.

Avatar Image says:

I don’t know how everyone here can see the book as “clear-cut” anything; they haven’t seen or read it. If JKR were to challenge the entirety of the fair use doctrine, my sense is that the reaction of the online fan community would be just as blindly in favor of her. Support for broad application of fair use does not make you any less of a fan – it makes you differ in opinion with JKR’s lawyers on a specific legal principle. Gaiman has a point – the overwhelming reaction to this has been about the personalities involved and perceived loyalty to JKR. Really, everybody- the fair use doctrine is a huge, muddled mess of legal precedents and contradictions, and nobody even in the legal community can seem to agree on it completely. I love JKR and the books as much as any of you, but like the rest of you, I haven’t seen the book version of the lexicon. We have no idea whether it is a fair use, and perfectly reasonable courts would disagree on whether it is depending upon who the judge is.

Avatar Image says:

but his point is valid. I want Jo to win, but that is my personal opinion. I feel it is unethical what SVA/RDR have done. However, unethical does not always equal illegal. I have not seen the manuscript for SVA’s book, so I have to rely on the words of others that he plagurized 91% of the work. If that is the case, she should win. I hope that she wins. fair use is a very gray area. I could definetely see how a win for SVA/RDR could hurt other copyright owners. But I do not really think that the fandom would be shut down completely and immediately. But, I do know, that I will never buy this book. I will wait for the Scottish Book.

One other point, I read somewhere that the print run for the lexicon book was only 10,000. 10,000 at $25 is only 25,000. So either way this turns out, RDR can look for a nice tax break on the loss from this book. Between publishing costs, lawyers, airfare to New York, hotels, and food while in New York. I am assuming, most confidentally, that they have spent more than the $25,000 for this book. I am going to check with the SEC to see if they are a public company so I can watch there end of year filings.

Avatar Image says:

$10,000 at $25 is $250,000.

And that’s a first run. The same first run as the MuggleNet book had. That book sold over 300,000 copies (=more than $6M gross).

Avatar Image says:

Nicci, you can read the Lexicon Book at this Justia link. It’s Filing 52 and the book is attachments 2 thru 5.


Please don’t get caught on the !0,000 copies only. Nowhere in RDR declarations to the court (including contract with SVA) does RDR restrict to that number. That was a number for a first print run.

Of course, if those 10,000 books sold, RDR would print more. Not to mention foreign (non-US) sales RDR hoped to make.

Avatar Image says:

I don’t like, also, that the word “plagiarism” is tossed about so carelessly. The book, whatever it looks like, is presented as a guide to JKR’s books. The case should be about whether a reference volume made up largely of passages from pre-existing work constitutes fair use of the original work. RDR is not arguing that Vander Ark made up these characters or passages from JKR’s text. The question is whether a reference guide can be literal in its references without infringing copyright. Again, Gaiman is right. This case is about personality. To be a fan of someone, or even their best friend, you do not have to agree with them all of the time. In the legal community, some of the closest relationships you will ever see are between people who hardly agree on anything even remotely related to legal interpretation. It’s the nature of the beast. To make this personal, which is what is happening in the online community, is a grave and irresponsible mistake.

Avatar Image says:

That’s an easy comment to make when you are a successful writer now. Well, he just lost some of my respect for him as a creator and innovator of the Graphic Novels.

It would make sense if SVA was actually adding new perspectives – which the court has shown he did a cut/paste of the best bits. I don’t call that writing.

Avatar Image says:

... so Neil Gaiman won’t mind if I copy and paste ‘Stardust’ , print it and put my name on the cover. Perhaps I will call it ‘Starmist’ by SeaJay : >)

Avatar Image says:

sorry, I mistyped earlier. I did mean $250,000. (that is what happens when you type while eating lunch). I am using the 10,000 run figure because that is the figure that is known without speculating further runs. I am just really saying that it is my personal opinion they will lose money on this deal (with the exception of the tax benefit). Just because Mugglenet’s book had to be rerinted, doesn’t mean that this one will. That is like saying Deathly Hallows sold 10 million copies so Stephen King’s new one should too. But I really hope that their print run is 0, zilch, nada. Although fairly acknowledging that other runs are possible and this is from my foggy memory, didn’t that contraversal OJ book sells alot of copies after the courts gave it to the Goldmans. Albeit it is a completely different type of book. Alot of people bought because of the controversy involved. In my personal opinion, I just do not understand why anyone would want to pay $25 for information that is free and available on the internet or in the HP books themselves. and thanks, desertwind for that link. That is very helpful for me to see for myself what the book really consists of. It’s not right to make any assessment, other than personal opinion, without seeing all of the facts and evidence. And that is all that this is, my personal opinion, and that and $.50, well you can’t even buy a can of pop with that.

Avatar Image says:

Yes, I think to a degree it’s “about personalities” in the online community. But I think the discussion at Leaky is more educated than many observers suppose. I seem to remember that at the outset of this whole thing, many posters here, if not a majority, were inclined to support SVA and dismayed that JKR would behave in a manner that appeared so uncharacteristic. Then TLC, led by the excellent journalist Melissa, painstakingly and objectively laid out the facts of the case. After people were able to make their own judgments based on those facts, opinions changed. (Speaking for myself, at least.) It’s a shame that almost all of the coverage of this trial has been so superficial.

Avatar Image says:

Oh wonderful, now the JKR Groupies will all boycott Neil Gaiman! :(

I agree with Miguel. To make this personal is irresponsible. We need to look at the facts; why do you think that Melissa isn’t posting anything but links about this? I think there’s lots more going on here that we will never know about.

From what I have read, it seems like the whole issue here isn’t about SVA writing a lexicon, it’s that the lexicon has some direct quotes from JKR’s books which is plagiarism. There are also some incorrect explanations for word and name etymologies, which JKR corrected on the stand. She can’t sue someone to stop the publication of a badly written guide, but she can sue someone for taking her words verbatim and putting them in a book. For instance, when SVA uses the same phrase to describe the brain tenacles.

I, for one, hope that the settle this out of court, so that other proper guides for other novels can still be written and published. Like Judge Patterson said during the trial:

“Litigation isn’t always the best way to solve things. I mean, lawyers like it. They get all caught up in the ideas of litigation and facts and things they think are to their benefit. But, the point is the parties, how do the parties fare? Is it really worth it? Can’t it be resolved in another way?Too often I feel - and I’m not pointing fingers at anyone here - just that the lawyers get caught up in the case and the clients are just part of the baggage. And I just feel that this case could be settled and should be settled. It takes a little imagination on the part of the lawyers and the client and I just wanted you to seriously think about it because I see cases where litigation hasn’t proved to be the best answer regardless of who won.”

Avatar Image says:

The difference, Nicci, is that you’re not talking about a massively popular web ste and an unknown one sellng the book. MN and Lexicon have similar audiences and standing in the HP community; to compare their sales is fair, relevant and informative.

Avatar Image says:

Just because many of us here side with JKR/WB’s position, dont just assume that we do it because we’re fans, blindly following her whims. That devalues our opinions unfairly. I agree whole-heartedly with Mrs. McClaggan’s post above. I was originally very unsure about how I felt about this suit. I followed the events through Leaky (I’ve said time and again, how impressed I am with how fair and complete their coverage has been). After reading all the information they’ve provided, including the Lexicon book itself, which desertwind so kindly linked above, I’ve come down on the side of JKR/WB.

I’m not a lawyer, so I dont totally get all the nuances of fair use, but I know what I think is fair and right. You shouldnt be able to publish someone elses work, and after alphabetizing, call it your own. It would be somewhat different if he (or they) had put ANY original thought into it. Something… but no… it’s all JKR’s work. He shouldnt be able to sell it. Yes, the Fair Use argument is a gray area, but I know what I think is right.

Avatar Image says:

Mr. Gaiman must not care a lot about his novels.

However I do agree with him and Terry Pratchett on this:

“Back in November I was tracked down by a Scotsman journalist who had noticed the similarities between my Tim Hunter character and Harry Potter, and wanted a story. And I think I rather disappointed him by explaining that, no, I certainly didn’t believe that Rowling had ripped off Books of Magic, that I doubted she’d read it and that it wouldn’t matter if she had: I wasn’t the first writer to create a young magician with potential, nor was Rowling the first to send one to school. It’s not the ideas, it’s what you do with them that matters.

Genre fiction, as Terry Pratchett has pointed out, is a stew. You take stuff out of the pot, you put stuff back. The stew bubbles on.”

I took this from Mr. Gaiman’s website (it’s in the same post as the one we are discussing here) and I agree with this. But that’s not what this legal battle is about. This is about downright stealing from an author, quoting her and not giving her the credit. I wish people would start seeing that instead of accusing Jo of being some greedy fame w**. Which she is obviously not. :(

Avatar Image says:

can tell you how much I have always hated when people say we should be flattered, if you feel so then fine that’s your business but don’t expect it of others.

Usually though it is anything but flattery and you usually come across this with stolen images. It’s easy it’s lazy and has little to no consideration of the person being stolen from. Just because it is easy and just because a lot of people do it doesn’t make it right.

And this is not about all unauthorized works, a lot of them are allowed and there are plenty out there as evidence. This is about this book with 91% taken content. If this book goes though as it is now I will forever ask myself how. How can something still he fair use and contain so much content of another persons work. Does it not defeat the purpose of copyright.

It’s not just this case either it’s just in general how people frustrate me so much and how much of it is generally due to ignorance and pointing the finger saying “but these people are doing it to”

I would avoid it to because it annoys me so but damn someone has to talk sense and there aren’t always others there to do so for you.

Avatar Image says:

When I heard about this case initially, I immediatley presumed that RDR books was right in its preceedings. I was curious, so i did more research- and when I learned that it was basically infringing upon a copyright, I decided that I didn’t agree with them anymore- and I “sided” with Jo.

The thing is that its become SO personal SO fast. The majority of the fan community hates Steve now, merely because he is opposing Jo. I’m glad we’re all so supportive of her, but it should be because you actually agree with what she is saying, not because she is the mother of our obsession.

Avatar Image says: I don’t understand how can someone’s heart lie on the side of people doing the unauthorised books.

wow, I can sympathize with it too – and not because I think lifting someone else’s work, and passing it off as your own, is okay. But so many great pieces of literature – the Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare’s plays among them – have come from authors who found their ideas in other people’s work and then went on to produce works of astonishing merit based on those ideas. If you look at the literature of ancient Greece, all those people – Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes – were writing about the same people. They took characters shared by the whole of Greece and produced plays that are still deeply moving – or hilarious, in the case of Aristophanes – 2,500 years later.

I completely sympathize with the idea that there’s too much emphasis placed on originality these days. I think it’s pretty safe to say that every idea has been had, and that the originality and the genius is in the execution, not the idea. People who favor copyright laws that are, in my view, too stringent, have a legitimate interest in defending the right of authors to profit from their work. But I think they go too far in emphasizing originality – originality – originality – at the expense of innovation. Those are the kind of people who basically don’t think any author should ever be able to write a story about a British boy wizard at school again, because it’s already been done. Sure it’s been done. But different people would execute it in different ways, and just because it’s done brilliantly one way doesn’t mean it can’t be done brilliantly another way. Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripedes, Chaucer, and Shakespeare all told stories about the Trojan War. But each work stands on its own merits, because the authors made the plot and the characters their own. If we went to the totally strict view of copyright, authors wouldn’t be able to feed off of each other like that, because that wouldn’t be “original.” One of the purposes behind copyright doctrine is to protect innovation, not just originality.

It’s probably evident to a lot of people here that I favor a more liberal view of copyright law; the farther away a potential infringement gets from outright, total, blanket plagiarism, the more hesitant I am to restrict it. Because I don’t believe that creativity is the product of the vacuum. I believe authors are inspired by other authors, and that there’s nothing wrong or reprehensible about that at all. JKR didn’t make up everything in Harry Potter. She borrowed amply from other authors, not to mention from medieval lore. But she put something into it that only she could; no one else could have written Harry Potter like she did. That’s why I believe in copyright law that protects expression, not ideas or anything like that. To me, the issue in this case, and the thing that complicates this case, is how much verbatim or near-verbatim expression is allowed under the Fair Use Doctrine, especially when there is little that’s added or transformed.

Neil Gaiman seems to fall, like me, in the realm of those who believe that innovation is to be both protected and encouraged. That’s not surprising. There are plenty of characters that Neil Gaiman wrote about – Lucifer, one of his most vivid characters, comes readily to mind – that Neil Gaiman did not invent. And the Sandman would have suffered for the lack of the devil. True, you can argue that Lucifer – like Hector, or Achilles, or Athena, or any of the other characters from Greek mythology – are in the public domain, but it’s hard for me to draw a line between being inspired by an ancient work like the Iliad, and a new one like Harry Potter. No, I’m not saying that anyone other than JKR should be able to write the Continuing Adventures of Hermione Granger and earn a profit off of it: I’m just saying that I understand what Neil Gaiman is saying, and I think it’s the honest admission of an author that everything they write about is not the product of their own brains. The human race has been around for quite some time; so, too, has literature. Every idea’s been had. It’s the expression that matters.

Really, everybody- the fair use doctrine is a huge, muddled mess of legal precedents and contradictions, and nobody even in the legal community can seem to agree on it completely. I love JKR and the books as much as any of you, but like the rest of you, I haven’t seen the book version of the lexicon. We have no idea whether it is a fair use, and perfectly reasonable courts would disagree on whether it is depending upon who the judge is.

Miguel, you show tremendous good sense here. Thank you.

I don’t like, also, that the word “plagiarism” is tossed about so carelessly. The book, whatever it looks like, is presented as a guide to JKR’s books. The case should be about whether a reference volume made up largely of passages from pre-existing work constitutes fair use of the original work. RDR is not arguing that Vander Ark made up these characters or passages from JKR’s text.

And again – tremendous good sense. :)

In the legal community, some of the closest relationships you will ever see are between people who hardly agree on anything even remotely related to legal interpretation. It’s the nature of the beast. To make this personal, which is what is happening in the online community, is a grave and irresponsible mistake.

Ha! Are you a lawyer, Miguel? Because you certainly understand the legal profession. :)

Just because many of us here side with JKR/WB’s position, dont just assume that we do it because we’re fans, blindly following her whims. That devalues our opinions unfairly.

I agree that it’s unfair to make such assumptions on a blanket basis, Beth – but I do think there’s a difference between people who side with JKR, and back that up with well-reasoned explanations of why they believe she should win under the law as it currently stands, or why they think the law as it currently stands should change, and those people who simply say things along the line of “well, I think JKR is right, and anyone who disagrees with her is no true fan.” That’s just inane.

Mr. Gaiman must not care a lot about his novels.

Johanna, I’m sure he cares about his novels as much as anyone else. He’s simply acknowledging that in every creative endeavor, there’s something a little parasitic; nothing is wholly original, and nothing stands completely on its own. The complications are in where to draw the line, and Neil Gaiman happens to come down on the more liberal, “anything goes”, “let the market sort it out” side of the line than JKR. Not to say that JKR is herself strict with regard to these things; I think she tends to be more liberal about it than a lot of authors as well. There are some authors who won’t rest until they’ve stamped out every fan site; JKR, far from discouraging that kind of thing, has actively encouraged it, seeing it as the compliment that it is.

I don’t have a side in this case; I’ve only read media accounts of the case; I don’t know enough about it, or the Fair Use Doctrine, to have a very well-informed opinion on it. But I firmly agree with those people who are fair enough to acknowledge that it is a tough case, that there are compelling arguments on both sides, and that admiring and enjoying an author’s work does not mean that you have to agree with her on everything.

Avatar Image says:

Maybe instead of jumping to conclusions, we should ask ourselves how much does he know about the case ? While he may be on the ‘unauthorized books’ side, he may have some reserve (i.e not changing his mind but not agreeing with the Lexicon Book) if confronted with the Pie Chart of Doom for instance ;)

We should always wonder how much people know about the case. Or else people are going to believe wrong statements about Authors (like with Terry Pratchett much more earlier)

Neil Gaiman only gave his opinion because fans asked him to. And we don’t know how much he read on this case.

Avatar Image says:

I always appreciate what Neil Gaiman has to say about things. He has such a gentle yet intelligent manner of speaking and writing. That is a very interesting entry, IMO, whether you agree with the sentiment or not.

Avatar Image says:

Some great posts here, especially from Miguel and some others who have taken pains to really think about all sides of this case. I absolutely agree that this is by no means a cut and dried case. I do hope they can settle out of court. I think the judge is right – that litigation is not always the best way to solve problems, regardless of who wins.

I cannot believe that either side would intentionally create a situation in which a lawsuit like this would be their only option. Surely SVA could not have wanted or welcomed the current situation, which does him zero good and a whole ton of harm within the fan community. Why he would ever knowingly do something that would cause JKR and the fandom to turn against him so bitterly is beyond me. No one can argue that the guy doesn’t love HP. What’s happening now must be his worst nightmare.

I feel for both sides. It seems they could meet and come up with a compromise. I would think that SVA would want this (and he says he does). Sadly though, I wonder if he can only sit and do what RDR tells him to do at this point.

Avatar Image says:

Ah! I just can’t figure out which side is in the right! I think both sides have good points to back up their cases. It still makes me sad that it had to come to a law suit like this! I don’t know what to think anymore!

Avatar Image says:

In response to the article: Steve did not take a general idea, he took the specifics. Those tiny details that distinguish one writer from another.

“The case should be about whether a reference volume made up largely of passages from pre-existing work constitutes fair use of the original work.”

Because it’s a reference guide it’s ok to infringe? Hmmm… I guess they have no other choice but to infringe if you want to explain a book in his own context. In other words, without outside information. But you could have asked permission. Though I guess that’s where Steve got stuck. I don’t think I would approve of the idea of permitting the use of other peoples work for the sake of a reference guide. It’s still leeching of other people’s work. It’s still using somebody else’s creativity. Not to mention the emotional aspect. You took something treasured by the author and decided what to do with it. Even if you’re crediting the author by claiming it’s not entirely your work, it doesn’t conceal the fact you used it without her authorization. Crediting does not equal consent. It’s like robbing a person while telling everyone who exactly you stole from. The victim would still feel violated. I don’t think a reference guide is that important to allow infringement. What does it do besides summing op facts already said in the books. The only benefit is that you find things quicker en make things easier. It’s handy. It does not provide background information, analyzing or critique. It’s just plain and simple handy. So copyright should be forsaken for a handy tool? A handy tool outweighs an authors energy, originality, life and labour? Besides a reference guide won’t help the original work as much as the original work helps the reference guide.

On the other hand reference guides without permission have no chance of existing? Dubious. Nevertheless what makes a reference guide so special (besides it can’t help but to infringe) that infringement should be allowed. Why should it have the same status as news, scholarly work or critique has. I doesn’t have such a noble cause.

However if reference guides are considered fair use then I like to think a heavily amount of compensation should be paid for infringing so heavily. Because after all, it’s not entirely the organizers work. It’s the work of the original author. And in the end, that’s what you’re buyers are reading.

Avatar Image says:

I’m sure many of us feel indebted to Jo for what she has given us, but the bottom line is that copywrite(sp?) is illegal.

Avatar Image says:

I can certainly appreciate Gaiman’s ideas, and he and Terry Pratchett are right. Fiction is a big stew of ideas, names, and plots. Elizabeth, you wrote in a previous post that you couldn’t draw a line between borrowing characters from ancient Greek literature and borrowing from Harry Potter. But there is a big difference. You could no more truly borrow Hector from the Illiad than you could borrow Johnny Appleseed from whoever’s written a book about him.

Regardless, the point that I feel that many people miss is that RVA is not borrowing characters, plot points, names, ect. to come up with a new story. If the printed lexicon is like the website, then he’s just taking all the little bits of info that Harry and the others have read while they did their homework, and put it in order. It’s quite different from other unauthorized books, such as The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter, which I own. That book asks questions like “why is Harry able to see things in the mirror of Erised?” and then follows with an original essay describing the history of scrying. You could no more sue the author of that book than you could the grade school kids who write their book reports on Harry Potter.

In any case, Neil Gaiman was just giving an opinion to people who had asked for it. Many people are divided on this issue. His heart lies with the unauthorized edition. That doesn’t mean he’s sitting on the steps of the courthouse with “Go RVA!” signs. I’m sure many of the pro-RDR/RVA people’s hearts lie with Jo, but they feel that the Fair Use laws could be extended. I feel that if the Lexicon is published, a free resource for Potter fans will be lost to us. I’ve seen a few fanfic writers who have to withdraw their material from the internet once they write an ORIGINAL story that gets published. I can’t see RDR allowing the Lexicon to remain online for free.

Avatar Image says:

Great post, Elizabeth. well thought out. I agree completely about how authors often borrow from, or are inspired by, other works and then they take that inspiration and run with it. You talked about the ills of stifling innovation and creativity in order to save originality. All very good points. My problem the entire time I was reading it, tho, is that there is nothing innovative or creative in the Lexicon book. And yes, many of us have read it. It’s posted publicly on the judicia website (see first page for the url). There are plenty of opportunities for the author(s) to get creative and to add original content, but they dont.

Example (which I may have seen elsewhere, and just dont remember): in the segment about Fawkes, all the book does is pretty much list his accomplishments per book. How about information on the name, “Fawkes”, like how it’s an homage to Guy Fawkes. Or how about some background on the mythology of the Phoenix itself? Well, maybe it’s under the entry for Phoenix? Nope. All that does is re-list Fawkes’s accomplishments, and describe their appearance, as listed, in COS and Fantastical Beasts. Jeez… just go to Wikipedia, and you can start adding some of that original, creative content.

Cathie wrote: “I cannot believe that either side would intentionally create a situation in which a lawsuit like this would be their only option.”.

The thing is, it probably could have ended without a lawsuit, but RDR acted in what many (myself included) think was an utterly unprofessional manner when approached about the book. You can go thru Leaky’s information to find the original postings, but RDR seems to have tried hard to push this into court. One example: after the C&D was issued, and JKR/WB requested a copy of the book in order to review it for copyright issues (which I believe is standard), they were told to (paraphrasing here): print out the website if you want it; if you have trouble, your publishers probably have tech support to help you out.

There was another example where RDR had a deadline to … do something (provide info? respond to the court?) ... RDR asked for an extension because the president had a family crisis to deal with, but instead of dealing with a family crisis, he was trying to sell the book to publishers in other countries.

I think that might be a big part of the issues many of us have with this case. I know it’s true with me. RDR has acted in such an arrogant, unprofessional manner, that it’s very hard to find merit with their case. It seems that they did everything to delay and stonewall any progress that could have been made, and forced the issue into court. Maybe that’s me picking my sides based on personalities. So be it.

Ps: One thing I found funny: Neil Gaiman said that we pick sides based on personalities, and then goes on to say that because his first books were “unauthorized”, that’s why he’s on that side. LOL! He just fell into his own pigeon hole.

Avatar Image says:

Wow. He sort of just contradicted himself there. I agree with LemonFaerie (post #1).

Avatar Image says:

These are great posts. Everyone has a written out his or her opinion really well and I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s posts. I also want to talk numbers as well. SVA’s book may have a really narrow audience.

SVA wants his book to sell and the trial and attention that it is getting free publicity so one assumes that people will be interested in buying it. There will be people buying it, for that reason alone. I think that the true memebers of the Harry Potter fandom will have no use for a book like this.

Why would a real fan who has read all the books need to know, for example, what a Deatheater is? We already know that answer. I usually don’t buy companion books and I would like to know how many people would buy something like that?

Avatar Image says:

I would buy the Lexicon book. I am one of the fans who requested such a book before Steve decided to publish.

Because MuggleNet was able to publish a NY Times bestselling book that simply regurgitated fans’ theories on Book 7, I didn’t realize there would be any objection to the Lexicon in print. Now, however, I can see both sides of the issue, Jo’s and Steve’s, and I am really not sure which side should win, but I do know that the case is not nearly as black and white as most fans like to think.

Great post, Elizabeth!

Avatar Image says:

Gaiman is also in the vanguard of fan fic: he used to have a contest called “The 24 hour comic” in which people were invited to write and draw a Sandman story, using his characters, etc., in 24 hours, and he would publish it, which he did.

The “Sandman” series draws on many literary references as does Harry Potter. My dad used to say “There’s nothing new under the sun” and there really isn’t. Most things are suggested by something else, what we see and hear and read all around us. How it is put together is where the individual gift/vision comes in. Nobody creates in a vacuum.

I was interested to read that comic book came out before HP though; I always thought they were ripping off Harry Potter! I have never read the comic, just a cover I saw once and thought, wow, what a rip-off!

Avatar Image says:

For me this really comes down to the fact that JKR and WB let the Lexicon site exist under the pretense that it was not for monetary gain. SVA/RDR publishing this book violates that. JKR and WB would have had every right to shut the site down way back when because of copyright infringement, but they let it slide, and I have no problem with that, just now it’s coming back to bite them. How many people think if they wanted to publish a guide to Star Wars they’d get away with it? Or Lord of the Rings? The Tolkien estate would stop that in a hearbeat. I’m not talking about essays or commentaries, but just index or glossary types of books.

JKR’s work may be derivative in that she’s taken stuff from myth and lore and applied it to her own story. But by doing so she’s made it her own. In what way does SVA’s book make the info he’s gathered from HP his own? How is it not purely a derivative work, which as copyright holder on the original material JKR should have control over according to law?

Avatar Image says:

Hey! I submitted the tip on this and no one gave me credit!!!! :oD


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Oh and by the way Gaiman is VERY liberal with use of his work. For instance, right now you can read one of his novels American Gods in its entirety online for FREE.

And I agree with whoever said that just because he said ““my heart is on the side of the people doing the unauthorised books” doesn’t mean he sides with SVA in particular.

Anyway, I personally think that no matter who wins, in the long run everyone is going to loose because of this.

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Thank you, Miguel and Elizabeth. I am so very tired of this coming down to “Jo Rowling is great! She deserves to win because Steve Vanderark is MEAN and a PLAGIARIST!” That isn’t the point and never was.

I hope they settle. This is the sort of case lawyers dread because the issues are so complex.

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I wont be interested much in the lexicon book because its like a dictionary on the potter world and I am all about reading the dialogues between the characters in the books. So I dont think i’ll be getting it if it comes out.

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Ditto SarahD’s post…

One more “Rah-rah-rah! Jo is great!” or “I can’t believe the gall of Steve!” and I think I will curl up and die…

Thank you Miguel and Elizabeth.

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Did anyone notice this?

April 20 2008 The Mail on Sunday Page 47

J. K. Rowling AN ARTICLE in last week’s Mail on Sunday said that Warner Bros had begun a legal battle with a film director who claims to have devised an earlier version of Harry potter. There is no such legal battle. We accept that J. K. Rowling is the sole creator of her Harry potter character and that there are no material similarities between her books and the film mentioned.

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FYI… Neil Gaiman spent a weekend in mid March at Orbital 2008. He was on a panel with Steve Vander Ark and spent a large amount of time listening to SVA’s spin on the case. So his reaction is likely due to the “information” received from SVA. SVA can spin a tale…

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Re dpiggy’s comment that “Neil Gaiman spent a weekend in mid March at Orbital 2008. He was on a panel with Steve Vander Ark and spent a large amount of time listening to SVA’s spin on the case. So his reaction is likely due to the ‘information’ received from SVA. SVA can spin a tale…”

Judging by numerous interviews I’ve heard and read, Neil is a very intelligent and thoughtful man who is quite capable of listening to both sides of the issue and making up his mind. Also, having been a fan of Neil’s for many years, I can assure you that it is not at all out of character for him to side on the liberal end of the fair use law. As he mentions in his blog, he has not contested unauthorized books about himself, and in the “Neil Gaiman: Notes from the Underground” documentary video, published years before the trial began, he talks about his work with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and how the right to free speech is something to be protected and treasured. So I would say that it is his own personal beliefs that incline him towards the side of the Lexicon, and not necessarily comments made by Steve on the panel.

Of course, you are free to disagree with Neil, as is your right, but I believe that you are doing him a disservice by implying that he cannot make up his own mind independently without being hoodwinked by someone else.

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@ John Green: “How many people think if they wanted to publish a guide to Star Wars they’d get away with it? Or Lord of the Rings? The Tolkien estate would stop that in a hearbeat. I’m not talking about essays or commentaries, but just index or glossary types of books.” See http://www.amazon.com/Tolkien-Bestiary-David-Day/dp/0517120771/ref=pd_sim_b_title_42 . It’s…pretty much the same type of book as the lexicon (but with pretty pictures!) – in-universe referencing of the creatures/peoples of the novels. Since he’s since reprinted it as http://ayulittleone.blogsome.com/2005/11/ ‘Characters from Tolkien’, with a bit of original thought…but not much. It just serves the same purpose as the lexicon – a handy reference guide, if you don’t remember who Emmeline Vance/Elladan is, why you are meant to care, and don’t fancy wading through hundreds of pages of the novels to find a passing reference.

I’m pretty torn regarding the legal issue: I think this sort of publication is pretty respectable in literary terms, it’s meant to allow easy referencing for those who want it; but, nonetheless, the lack of originality does disturb me. As Gaiman said Pratchett said (himself paraphrasing Tolkien – nothing is original, after all), fantasy is a cauldron from which each author takes and to which author adds. The fact that this book adds little to the genre is worrying. The fact that the authors & publishers intend to make a profit without having contributed very much is more so. But, then again, one might argue that all successful authors are making profit that is disproportionate to their contribution to society. Nor can we really suppose that literary publishing is a particularly fair, or particularly nice sector of society – how many excellent and original writers languish in the doldrums because nobody wants to read their work, and how many glamour-models/footballers wives succeed by publishing vapid autobiographies.

But I’ve found the conduct of both S.V.A./RDR and J.K.R./Warner less than perfect. With the first – I can really sympathise with SVA – Rowling praised his site on her site about a year ago, saying that she liked it, and would dip into it if she wanted to check a detail. It’s not hard to imagine from that that she liked the site. And consequently, that she would be okay with it being published (because, let’s face it, there’s something about a physical book that a webpage cannot beat). But he and RDR really seem to have gone the wrong way about this entire business – if you are writing a reference work to somebody else’s work, it helps to get their consent, or at least avoid antagonising them – and RDR seem to have been at best careless, at worst actively exploitative of the situation.

But as for JKR…I really enjoyed her sarcasm (I fell in love with the books because of the humour of the earlier ones) in the transcript, and I can understand that she feels upset that someone is trying to make a profit from her work without adding anything themselves. But, I found her at times contradictory (criticising the Lexicon for deducing meanings that she did not mean – despite the fact that she had never given those meanings, which made the Lexicon’s deductions, in fact, the original thought she was claiming it was deficient in…); I disliked her apparent attempts to disavow having ever considered the Lexicon in anything other than a patronising, ‘Oh what nice work, children’ manner; I found her some of her arguments against for the need for the Lexicon strange (‘It’s pointless – any seven year old with a Latin dictionary could look that up’. Which raises two points – firstly, how many seven year olds have Latin dictionaries and are capable of adequately understanding them; secondly, does that not make any sort of secondary or tertiary work pointless – why read ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, when any seven year old with a copy of Ammianus Marcellinus…you get the idea), to the point where I wondered where I wondered what the point of her own ‘Scottish project’ was, since ‘any child can just go back and look at the books’.

Worst of all, I did not respect her statements regarding her projected encyclopedia, which amounted to manipulation of public opinion (blackmail, even), and a betrayal of the author-reader relationship. Put simply – there is a two-way binding between author and reader. Without her writing her books, we would not have Harry Potter, and because of that, we are indebted to her. But, without us buying her books, she would never have got past Philosopher’s Stone, and because of that, she is indebted to us. It’s a double loyalty, a double link of gratitude – we should respect her, she should respect us. Now, she previously promised us, her loyal readers who have made her rich in reward for her creativity and the happiness she has given us, that she intended to write an encyclopedia-style book to accompany Harry Potter, to be written reasonably soon in the future. Now, however, she is claiming that she feels so upset and drained by this issue that she may not write it after all. This is, firstly, manipulation – intentionally or not, it has the effect of making readers who want to read her book outraged at SVA/RDR, who are depriving us of her work. This is an astute PR move on her part, but hardly honorable. But, more importantly, it is a betrayal of the author-reader relationship – if an author promises a book to the readers to whom she owes her success, threats to not write that book should not be made lightly. They are unfair. They are a dismissal of the readers, and of their relevance to her own work. That Rowling, who has previously been very friendly to readers and fans (remarkably so, really), is now being so cavalier of the feelings of her readers, is not only dishonorable of any author, it is unworthy of the Rowling we have previously seen.

Anyway, that’s my rant. Applause to Miguel and Elizabeth – I found your entries really thought-provoking.

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great guy, that’s what neil gaiman seems to be. beautiful blog, i should read and see more of it. he spoke with a true artist’s mind.

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Neil Gaiman posted additional thoughts on copyright here :


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I wonder if JKRowling paid the city of Barcelona and the Catalan people any money for using the name and concept of their Diagonal Avenue from where she made up her Diagon Alley. For those who don’t know it’s an avenue that runs diagonally through the city. Interesting, isn’t it?

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Excellent! I like his books. And I support HP Lexicon.

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I think Gaiman misses the point to a large extent, and many people here do as well.

“Unauthorized” has nothing to do with it. Anyone can write an “unauthorized” book about anything they want. It’s just that the material has to be original stuff like criticism, commentary, analysis, and not just regurgitating the original material.

His first book was a bio on Duran Duran. Nothing like the Lexicon.

His second was a book of quotations, which could potentially have copyright issues if it was nothing but those quotes with no commentary on them. But even in that case, that book seems to be quotes from a huge number of different books and movies, as opposed to the Lexicon, which takes everything from one author.

I also have to disagree that this case is all about personality. If this book is truly over 90% direct quotes, with little or no commentary, that does fall much closer to plagiarism than fair use.

And there are plenty of books about HP already, some authorized and some not (and JKR didn’t take action against any of them, she couldn’t since they didn’t take as much directly as this one reportedly has). ANYONE can write a book about HP or anything else for that matter, that book just has to contain original material and not just take things verbatim from the original and switch the order around.

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Okay, now I’m just confused.

I’ve posted occasionally, and followed this story with interest. Because as an Internet professional, I know and work with a lot of intellectual property lawyers, and it’s a line I walk every day. (“No, you CAN’T just “borrow” the content from your competitor’s web site…”)

So when someone earlier posted the link to text of the book, I thought to myself “Finally, I can see this 91% content everyone is talking about.” (Thanks to whoever posted that, by the way.)

Maybe I didn’t read deeply enough, but do you know what I saw?

I saw a Harry Potter reference book. Characters, places, spells, etc, all listed alphabetically, with lots of quote marks and reference marks. Lots of descriptive text that summarized concepts, characters and places, that didn’t appear to be lifted directly from the books (though I admit, I’m not a big enough fan to identify that kind of thing without having the source material in front of me).

So yes, I suppose 91% of the content is from the books, when you consider that things like “gobstones” or “Xenophilius Lovegood” or “Aguamenti” are words and characters and concepts from the books of JKR’s creation.

But it’s a reference work on the books. How can you have a reference work on the books without using the terms within it? And if you immerse yourself deeply in the world, you may – intentionally or not – pick up the language patterns of the author. It has been known to happen – it’s when it’s done deliberately that the invective should start flowing. Because we are all influenced by what we see, hear and read. You think maybe it’s possible that after the dozens of times SVA read these books he’s just kinda absorbed the source material? And that her writing style is now such a part of the cultural Zeitgeist it can be hard to see?

And as the Harry Potter fandom are such sticklers – how can you not use some exact language from the books without someone complaining that it’s inaccurate? SVA is “darned” if he does, and “darned” if he doesn’t.

Now I haven’t sat down with my books and compared them word for word, so I’m willing to concede that SVA hasn’t attributed enough back to JKR. THAT is definitely wrong and if this is the case, editing needs to happen, if only to at least add more quote marks and references. I am on the side of protecting intellectual property, but as many have noted, this is a gray area.

But the thing is – he put together a lexicon (with help, yes, but he could be seen as the overall editor, which still isn’t an easy job). He took items from sources as varied as the 7 main books, the companion books, the films, the video games, interviews and all sorts of other associated materials. That, to me, speaks of a huge effort – even as overseeing editor if not direct contributor – and not plagiarism.

Because I, too, am bothered by the ease of which the “p-word” is thrown around. SVA has never claimed to be the creator of any of these concepts – just someone who organized them logically in a reference book. And as someone who works with data for a living? Let me tell you, that is not an easy job. A lot of the definitions seem to be pretty non-JKR language based descriptions. Or does she feel she owns the copyright to every single word in her works, like “spell” or “hex”? Since those words originate from Middle or Old English, I’m certainly not comfortable with that. Nor am I comfortable with the concept she owns the usage of things like owls, magic wands, and stone walls with diamond-paned windows and vaguely gothic fonts. She did not come up with those things on her own, or even the combination thereof.

JKR – and all authors – do deserve to be protected from those trying to steal their work. (I’m still upset that Dan Brown seems to have gotten away with his much closer brush with actual plagiarism re: The Da Vinci Code – taking someone else’s book and barely fictionalizing it pushes Fair Use and intellectual property to its legal limits.)

But I’m still at a loss to determine how the HPL in print form is actually any different from any of the unauthorized guides that quote from the HP universe (again, I ask about this in respect to issues other than large swaths of apparently unquoted or unattributed content).

The MuggleNet book about Book 7 seems to have a fair share of quoted content. And what about the “Mugglenet.Com’s Unofficial Harry Potter Companion: The Encyclopedic Guide to the Books, Movies and More”? Would the latter have been okay because it’s MuggleNet, and people seem to love Emerson and Ben (while they seem to revile SVA)?

So now I’m just confused even more. Maybe there’s a ton of unattributed text, and I’m not enough of a fan to see it. Maybe I’m biased because I’m a researcher by training and as someone who reorganizes data for clients for a living, yeah I see that as something that is a departure from source material that may be dense and hard for some to follow. I like the books, but occasionally had to backtrack to earlier books to refresh myself on a concept. Or I’ve been confused by things that were supposed to be “known” had you read some of the companion books…which I didn’t (for example, I still have no idea what a Kneazle is, but I’m supposed to understand that Crookshanks is half Kneazle without reading the “Magical Beasts” book?).

As long as it is properly referenced, a lexicon represents a huge amount of effort – it’s not just cutting and pasting random swaths of text and saying “Look what I did!” It’s about culling and interpreting data from source material. You sit down, open all the books and go through all the interviews and cross-reference it all, and tell me it doesn’t involve a certain amount of patience and talent.

So as far as I’m concerned, the issue here is whether or not SVA interpreted and defined, or simply or cut and pasted. Not if it’s unethical. Not that it may impinge on a future book by JKR. Not even if you like SVA or not. It’s about the actual words on the paper. I leave the page by page analysis to those who have the time – my clients probably wouldn’t appreciate me putting off their problems for this level of analysis…neither would my bank… ;)

I think Judge Patterson is correct. The parties need to come to an amicable solution over this. There’s just too much gray area. The concept of a Lexicon itself should be protected…but not if it claims to be definitions and interpretations when it is actually just copied and unattributed source material. The answer lies in between there somewhere.

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Excellent post, Chasmosaur. I agree.

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