RDR Books Files Response to JKR/WB in Lexicon Suit

Feb 09, 2008

Posted by: Melissa Anelli


RDR Books has filed its response to the full request for an injunction to the Harry Potter Lexicon book filed by WB and J.K. Rowling three weeks ago. There are in all declarations from six people and several hundred papers of exhibits, most of which are copies of text from books (including almost the entire Lexicon book).

As a reminder of the current schedule:
Feb. 27: WB/JKR file a response to this response
March 13: A hearing will be convened with Judge Robert P Patterson

Edited to add: The full content of the filings has just been uploaded at Justia.com (by the ever-vigilant Nicholas, saving us a lot of bandwidth – thank you!).

The overarching document – the opposition brief – in this case says:

1. That J.K. Rowling “appears to claim a monopoly on the right to publish literary reference guides, and other non-academic research, relating to her own fiction,” and that “this is a right no court has ever recognized,” and if accepted it would “eliminate an entire genre of literary supplements,” as well as threaten “encyclopedias, glossaeries, indexes and other tools that provide useful information about copyrighted works.” It says JKR‘s rights “simply do not extend so far” and she hasn’t shown that this guide poses a significant threat.

2. After giving background on the Lexicon, is describes the beginnings of the Lexicon book, which is later backed up in a declaration by Rapoport: It says Rapoport called Vander Ark after reading about him in an article, and Vander Ark “expressed interest in publishing a book version of the website. Rapoport said he thought the A-Z index was the best part to publish.

3. The brief recounts the history of the action by saying, “Shortly after RDR Books announced its intention to publish the Lexicon, Plaintiffs commenced this action.” There is no mention in this brief of the cease-and-desist letters that have been detailed by JKR/WB.

4. The brief says it is “far too late” for JKR to be the “first to publish” a Potter companion books, citing “nearly 200 Harry Potter companion guides,” “many of which incorporate A to Z listings.” RDR provides six of these books as evidence:
a. The Unofficial Harry Potter Encyclopedia: Harry Potter A-Z, by Kristina Benson
b. Field Guide to Harry Potter, by Colin Duriez
c. The J.K. Rowling Encyclopedia, by Connie Ann Kirk
d. A Muggle’s Guide to Exploring the Wizarding World by Fiona Boyle
e. Fact, Fiction and Folklore in Harry Potter’s World, by George Beahm
f. The End of Harry Potter? by David Langford

The documents do not list the 200 companion books. but count these six as the ones that had “especially striking similarities to the Lexicon in both format and content: At first flush, (a) appears to be out of print or unavailable on Amazon, (b) is about 2/3rds non-encyclopedic work, (c) seems to not be listed on Amazon, (d)’s title is actually “An Unofficial…” etc. and (f) is a predictions book.

5. Prof. Janet Sorensen declares in favor of RDR, and the brief says she says that “lexicons like this one have an important and distinguished place in the literary world…it organizes a tremendous amount of information into a concise and readable form…[and] provides a significant amount of original analysis and commentary.” It also says the HPL takes information from “painstaking collection” of Ms. Rowling’s interviews and statements, and Sorensen says it “helps readers to construct the universe of the Potter books in their minds, to understand its rich connections to the wide world in which we live, and to encourage the impulse to imagine a universe beyond the one depicted in the books.”

6. The brief maintains the HPL is “highly transformative,” and an example of work that has “always been held to constitute fair use.”

The argument of the brief states that to get this preliminary injunction, JKR/WB would have to show irreparable harm in the absence of it, and either “a likelihood of success on the merits or…sufficiently serious questions going to the merits and a balance of hardships tipping decidedly in the movant’s favor.”

It maintains that:

1. JKR/WB has not shown a case of infringement: “the Lexicon does not ‘reproduce’ the Harry Potter Works (or any one of them) in any meaningful sense of the word’ and claims examples of derivative works include ‘a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgement, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted,” and then says the Lexicon does not fit in those categories because “reference guide” is not among them. It also says the Lexicon does not “recast, transform or adapt copyrighted works in comparable ways.”

2. It claims, based on a declaration from the Lexicon is a “supplementary work, the purpose of which is ‘explaining…commenting upon [and] assisting in the use of’ the Harry Potter Works, citing Benjamin Kaplan’s An Unhurried View of Copyright.

3. “Even if” it was a ”’reproduction’ or ‘derivative work,’” JKR/WB would have to “show substantial similarity between the Lexicon and Harry Potter Works.

4. The Lexicon is protected by Fair Use, the document says, because it is “a valuable reference tool that helps readers to better access, understand and enjoy the Harry Potter works.” The brief argues that fair use is not a “narrow exception” but an integral part of the Copyright Act incorporating the need to ‘allow others to build’ upon copyrighted works. It claims Fair Use is a ‘First Amendment safeguard’ that prevents copyright law from burdening free speech.

5. That fair use is governed by four factors that are non-exclusive:

a. The “purpose and character of use,” ie, whether the nature of the work is ‘transformative.’ The brief says a transformative work ‘adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning or message,’ citing Campbell and a case against Amazon, Inc. a decision involving a search engine’s ability to produce thumbnail images.

The brief says a “thoughtful review of the Lexicon reveals significant, transformative functions that add extensive value, understanding and insights to the original works,” and claims the “organizational value” of the book makes it transformative.

It also says the Lexicon has a “significant amount of commentary and analysis,” citing the entry on Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood, talking about his bravery and leadership and Luna’s observations about her nature, decodes meaning of geographical and historical references and revealed “myriad errors and inconsistencies in the Harry Potter Works,” citing the example of Marcus Flint appearing as a seventh-year after he was to have graduated. (As an aside, this discovery was not made by nor is unique to this book; it is frequently spotted by fans and the first public record of it comes from 2000 ago on the HP for Grown Ups list by a user named Stephanie.)

The brief says “any fair reading” reveals significant transformative value, and that attempts to compare it to the case of the Seinfeld trivia book are inaccurate because of the nature of a trivia book not being a reference guide.

The brief compares the Lexicon to the Beanie Baby collector’s guide that was the subject of a lawsuit as well.

b. “Nature of the copyrighted work”: The brief says, again, that the Lexicon helps readers better “access, understand and enjoy” the Potter books.

c. Amount of the work used: This factor assess the portion of the original work used in the accused work, and this brief says that relies on “whether the extent of copying is reasonable in light of its purpose,” citing a search engine’s need to produce photographs and the Beanie Babies’ collector’s guide depicting the Beanie Babies products. It claims JKR/WB have ignored the purpose in their claim that the work relies too heavily on the original HP books. It also points out that the Lexicon does not borrow the overarching plot sequence or story ark, pace, setting, or dramatic structure, only “short quotes,” and “no more than what is necessary to its purpose.”

d. Market Effect: The brief says this depends (quoting Bill Graham from the MCA, Inc. v. Wilson suit) upon “balancing the benefit the public will derive if the use is permitted” versus “the personal gain the copyright owner will receive if the use is denied.” It says there can be “no dispute” the Lexicon gives “substantial public value,” citing J.K. Rowling’s and WB’s use of the web site (though it says “Lexicon,” without distinguishing the book from the site), claims based on a declaration from Steve Vander Ark. It also claims there can be no market harm because JKR/WB did not argue that the Lexicon book would be bought instead of one of the seven HP novels or seeing an HP movie. It also says that derivative works are “eligible for fair use protection.” It also says that it is incumbent on JKR to prove that the Lexicon is a substitute for the guide she wants to publish, and says that J.K. Rowling does not suggest anyone would purchase the Lexicon guide instead of hers.

The brief then goes on to say that the contents of the Lexicon being made available for free negates any market harm, and that the fact that it has existed online for free for six years should mean it is able to be sold in printed form.

“If and when Ms. Rowling decides to publish a companion guide, it will undoubtedly be unique,” the brief says, citing the Leaky Cauldron’s interview with J.K. Rowling in December 2007. It specifically mentions (multiple times throughout these documents) that she anticipated it might take as many as 10 years to produce, and that her ideal layout would be “facing pages” with backstory and extra details on characters on the left-facing pages and extra information that wasn’t in the books on the right. The brief repeatedly – outside of the exhibit in which is prints the enitrety of the transcript – leaves out the portion of the interview in which J.K. Rowling said it would be a definitive, give everyone-everything sort of guide. Here is the relevant text from the PotterCast transcript:

JKR: I’m just gonna say, “This might change,” but I imagined it as half of it, maybe on facing pages, but that might be difficult just through layout. But the ideal would be to have- say on the left hand side you’ve got a page showing all your back story, extra details on characters, or an entry on wands, showing what every character’s wand was and all of this stuff. And I think also it might be interesting to have information about the actual writing and what I discarded. So on one side it’s acting like the whole world is true and it’s giving you extra information on that real world and on the other side we’re admitting that it’s actually fiction and I’m showing yeah, discarded plots, characters that didn’t make it, problems in the plot. I think both lots of information are interesting so it would be nice to unite both of them… I think the only- the point of doing it, if I’m going to do it, it’s about doing the absolute definitive, giving people everything guide. … [E]verything that I’ve got, put it that way. That’s what I aspire to do at the moment. It might, for practical reasons not be possible to do both sets of information in that way but I would like to, that would be the ideal. … I think there’s no point in me doing it unless it’s amazing. And I think there’s no point in writing it unless it is everything and the last thing that I want to do is to feel that I have to rush something out because (SU: Right.) do you know what I mean? My hand is being forced or there’s demand and other people will fill it first. I think, I just want to do it right or not do it at all. And I really do want to do it right.

The brief claims her idea of the guide focuses largely on what is not in the books.

6. This brief claims there has been no bad faith on the part of RDR Books or Steve Vander Ark. It dismisses the JKR/WB “smoking gun” email in which Steve Vander Ark said a book of the HPL would be illegal and against Jo’s wishes, by saying, “Vander Ark is a layperson, not a lawyer, and his speculation as to the legal status of the Lexicon (since corrected) is beside the point.”

7. The brief says the quote in question from the Harry Potter Lexicon web site has been removed from the book’s cover – but it does not mention in this brief (only later, in Rapoport’s declaration) that it wasn’t removed from the Lexicon cover until after JKR/WB’s filing. It also claims if the quote remained the false endorsement evidence offered by JKR/WB would not apply because the quote does not have “the potential to mislead anyone,” and maintains the survey in which an independent consultant showed people the cover of the book and determined that 38-55 percent of them had been falsely mislead by the fansite award text, was fatally flawed because there was a disclaimer underneath it. It claims JKR/WB instructed respondents to look only at the quote and invite them to ignore the disclaimer.

8. The brief says JKR/WB has not met the burden of showing “irreparable harm.”

Further information not addressed above in the remaining documents:

1. Steve Vander Ark’s declaration says that:

a. Approximately 10 percent of the material included in the Lexicon book is part of the original postings on the web site when it was created. The remaining is material added to the web site since 2000.

b. No one has ever demanded a “cease-and-desist” for material on the web site that is now in the book.

c. The staff compiled an A-Z index of the site in 2005.

d. It has been his goal to present “a comprehensive encyclopedia, a single source in which they can find descriptions and definitions of all the characters, places, spells, creatures and physical objects in the world of Harry Potter.”

e. He says his contributions are about 60 percent of entries, and 40 percent by staff or other contributors and editors “and also fans whose comments and emails have proved useful and informative.”

f. In making the web site he says he has used general fable and myth research tools as well as the Potter books.

g. The only revenue has come from the “very limited advertising I allow. About three years ago, I began accepting ads from Amazon.com in return for a payment of approximately $15 per month. About 18 months ago I began accepting ads from Google for a payment of approximately $100 per month. Together, these ad revenues have covered the cost of operating the web site.” [The Leaky Cauldron houses and runs the Harry Potter Lexicon for zero charge, and has since it came under its current domain name. That is true as of this posting. The original intent before this response was filed was to transfer the Lexicon to its own server; because of this question of ownership and cost, we will refrain from changing any variables where sworn statements are concerned, and will not transfer the domain until litigation has been completed. At that time we will be happy to do so.]

h. The web site gets approximately 350K pageviews per month on its index page and 1.5 million per month on its entire site.

i. “Beginning in about 2003, I received regular requests from fans for printed copies of the Lexicon website, proof of a demand for a print version…At the same time, a number of people contacted me with proposals for using the material on the Lexicon website in a printed encyclopedia. For a considerable time I declined these suggestions…There were two reasons for this. First, until the summer of 2007, Ms. Rowling had not completed the series of Potter books, so that any encyclopedia published before that point would be incomplete. Second, until August 2007, I believed that an encyclopedia, in book form, would represent a copyright violation. This was an assumption on my part, however, as a layperson.”

j. “Before visiting London in July of 2007, I requested a fifteen-minute meeting with the Agency [Christopher Little] to discuss both the work visa [ that he was trying toget] and the possibility of using material from the Lexicon for a book and was told they didn’t have time.” [There is no document in the filing proving this, unless it refers to this letter, as cited by JKR/WB, which does not mention his wish to publish the Lexicon as a book.] “I made no further plans for a book until Roger Rapoport of RDR Books contacted me.”

k. Roger Rapoport told Vander Ark that he had consulted with an expert who said the publication would be legal, during discussions about the book. Steve then requested RDR indemnify him against lawsuits.

l. Work on the book began after August 20, 2007, and was completed on Sept. 15. It contains half the web site.

m. The book is smaller than the online resource because of space issues. “Entries in the book are often condensed versions of corresponding sections of the web site.

n. “It is true that, in a few places, the book employs phrases or sometimes whole sentences that are similar to phrases or sentences in the Potter books…in those cases, however, the similarity in language was unavoidable.”

o. “Over the past several years, I have gained widespread recognition as an expert on the Potter world. I have been interviewed about various Harry Potter subjects by the School Library Journal, Time magazine, the BBC, the New York Times, the Detroit Free Press…and several other publications whose names I do not recall.”

Vander Ark claims David Heyman, producer of Harry Potter, said the Potter flimmakers use the Lexicon web site almost every day. This was supposed to have been said during a set visit in which many fan outlets were invited to see the Order of the Phoenix lot.

q. The Electronic Arts Studio, the declaration says, has printouts of the reader’s guide on its walls.

r. After the release of the sixth book, Cheryl Klein of Scholastic sent Steve a thank-you note on behalf of his staff which is included as an exhibit. It reads: “Steve Vander Ark for the HP Lexicon: Dear Steve and the rest of the Lexicon team – On behalf of the Scholastic Half-Blood Prince editorial staff, I’d like to say thank you for the wonderful resource your site provides for fans, students, and indeed editors and copy editors of the Harry Potter series. We referred to the Lexicon countless times during the editing of HP6, whether to verify a fact, check a timeline, or get a chapter and book reference for a particular event…We’re all HP fans ourselves, of course, but you made our work immeasurably easier through the one-stop searchable HP encyclopedia the site offers. Please accept this as a token of our admiration and appreciation, and ever so many thnanks again – All best wishes, Cheryl Klein.”

s. The sole purpose of the Lexicon website and book, Vander Ark says, “is to encourage fan interest in, and serve as a reference to, the Harry Potter books…the Lexicon book cannot be financially successful or profitable if the Harry Potter works are not financially successful or profitable….I believe that Harry Potter fans will buy a similar work written by Ms. Rowling even if they have purchased a copy of the Lexicon book because her fans are very loyal to her and will always want what she writes.”

t. He deems many declarations from JKR/WB to be inaccurate and says that the books referenced by JKR/WB have been “carefully chosen to exclude” what has been seen in the case as other HP encyclopedias. It also says Neil Blair has never asked Vander Ark to remove from the website any material which is now part of the Lexicon book, and says that means the same content in a for-profit book is therefore not infringing. It says Diana Birchall’s claim that no outside sources were used to write the book is incorrect, and gives a few examples. It also goes on to illustrate what he deems as analysis in specific entries.

u. “Fans of Harry Potter, and ultimately Ms. Rowling her self, will only benefit,” from publication of the book.”

Further declarations are from Shawn Malhotra, a first-year law student at New York University, who summarized press statements J.K. Rowling has made regarding her encyclopedia, which quotes a significant portion of the statements J.K. Rowling made in the PotterCast interview:

The quote they use is this:

“The ideal would be to have- say on the left hand side you’ve got a page showing all your back story, extra details on characters, or an entry on wands, showing what every character’s wand was and all of this stuff. …And I think also it might be interesting to have information about the actual writing and what I discarded. So on one side it’s acting like the whole world is true and it’s giving you extra information on that real world … and on the other side we’re admitting that it’s actually fiction and I’m showing yeah, discarded plots, characters that didn’t make it, problems in the plot. I think both lots of information are interesting so it would be nice to unite both of them.”

[To be fair, the next thing she says in the transcript, however, is:

“Well, exactly, to be honest, I think the only- the point of doing it, if I’m going to do it, it’s about doing the absolute definitive, giving people everything guide.”]

There is also a declaration from David Harris, another first-year law student, who has provided summaries of the six books listed as also uncontested HP encyclopedias.

Roger Rapoport also provides a new mockup of a cover for the book, which was designed in “late January.” The title has been changed to The Lexicon: An Unauthorized Guide to Harry Potter Fiction and Related Materials and consists of a plain white cover. The front and back now list extensive disclaimers.

Janet Sorensen, a tenured professor at the English Department at UC Berkeley, made a declaration that says the Lexicon is “part of a long tradition of lexicons and guidees,” and mentions as a comparable example Charlotte Lennox’s Shakespeare Illustrated, in which she presented a guide to the public domain characters and plots of Shakespeare, and Samuel Richardson’s own guide to his own work, Pamela Illustrated. Most of the beginning of the declaration involves guides and lexicons in the 19th century and early 20th. It also mentions 20th-century examples of guides to JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis’s work, and notes that the works were published while still under Tolkien and Lewis’s copyright but doesn’t address the level to which permission was sought or granted for each. The Lexicon, she says, is a “ready resource” for J.K. Rowling’s creations; Sorensen mentions her own need to have her memory jogged while reading, etymological information in the book and citations. She says the Lexicon is helpful for the youngest readers of the book, referring to a six-year-old she knows who might find value in it. She also says that the Lexicon’s pointing out of mistakes is likely to be unique to it, and not included in Rowling’s version, adding value. She also attests to the light moments of critical interpretation and analysis.


That’s all for now. Apologies if it was too long, and you didn’t read. More in a few weeks. We hope, at least…

The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.