Harry Potter and the Alleged Copyright Infringement
In the most recent chapter of the Harry Potter saga, Scholastic Corp, the US publisher of Harry's exploits, has succeeded in having a copyright-infringement lawsuit brought against them in the US District Court dismissed.
The action was brought by the trustee of the estate of Adrian Jacobs, author of "The Adventures of Willy the Wizard – No. 1 Livid Land", who claimed that the fourth novel in the Harry Potter series, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" had reproduced a substantial part of the late Mr Jacobs' work. In addition to a scathing critique of Livid Land, the opinion of US District Judge Shira Scheindlin found that the allegations in the complaint did not meet the standard of "plausibility" required to survive the motion to dismiss. This standard required more than the "sheer possibility" that the defendant acted unlawfully. Comparing J K Rowling's 734 pages of text with Adrian Jacobs' 16, Scheindlin observed that "any serious comparison of the two strains credulity".
The dismissal of the complaint can be contrasted with the failure of the UK publisher, Bloomsbury, to have a similar case summarily dismissed at a hearing in July 2010. In both jurisdictions, copyright protects the expression of ideas, rather than the ideas themselves. However the English court considered the appropriate test in an application for summary judgement was whether the case had a real as opposed to a "fanciful" prospect of success. Mr Justice Kitchin stated that although he was strongly inclined to the view that the similarities relied upon constituted ideas rather than the expression of them, he could not go so far as to say that the Claimants case was fanciful.
In their respective opinions both courts considered the apparent similarities between the two books. In its judgement, the US court compared the two in detail and relied heavily on that comparison in dismissing the case. The English court took a more objective approach and identified the similarities relied upon but allowed the case to proceed to trial before fully considering the merits of these.
The dismissal of the US case will have no legal impact upon the ongoing proceedings in the English courts. That said, the decision, together with the comments made by Mr Justice Kitchin, suggest that Harry is likely to survive his most recent trial.