In a much anticipated decision, Judge Robert Patterson of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York has ruled in favor of J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. and enjoined the publication of the "The Harry Potter Lexicon."
Citing ownership of the copyrights to the Harry Potter series, as well as Rowling's stated desire to write her own encyclopedia of the series, Rowling and Warner Bros. contended that the "The Harry Potter Lexicon" was comprised of substantial portions of the seven-volume Harry Potter series including, for example, quotations, close paraphrasing, and entire songs and poems, as well as substantial portions of Rowlings's own, albeit shorter and less comprehensive, published companion guides to the series. The defendants urged that the use of facts from the Harry Potter books and movies was for the purpose of creating a reference guide for Harry Potter readers, rendering the Lexicon sufficiently dissimilar from the original works, and, alternatively, that even if similarities existed, the Lexicon was nonetheless protected under the fair use doctrine.
The Court concluded that Rowling and Warner Bros. proved infringement, finding specifically that the Lexicon copied enough of the original works, both qualitatively and quantitatively, to support a finding of copyright infringement.
Turning to the defendants' fair use defense, the Court spent significant effort analyzing the various considerations in reaching its conclusion that the defendants failed to carry their burden to demonstrate fair use.
Although the Lexicon was created for the purpose of being a reference guide, and was a very different type of work than either the Harry Potter books or movies, the Court ultimately ruled that the Lexicon contained too much of the original expression from the original works, and certainly more than what was reasonably necessary from the original works to create a reference guide. Further, the Court considered the creative nature of Rowling's fictional universe and the harm to the market for Rowling's own companion books in its findings. While the Court took note of the defendants' knowledge that Rowling intended to create her own encyclopedia, it also made the point that the market for reference guides to the Harry Potter works is not exclusively hers to exploit or license. When weighing all of the foregoing, the Court determined that the Lexicon, despite being a reference guide, was not shielded by the fair use doctrine.
The ruling in this case continues the difficult task of navigating the contours of protecting the rights of authors of original works while not discouraging the creation of valuable secondary works. Judge Patterson made a point to note that, "[i]n striking the balance between the property rights of original authors and the freedom of expression of secondary authors, reference guides to works of literature should generally be encouraged by copyright law as they provide a benefit [to] readers and students; but. . . they should not be permitted to ‘plunder' the works of original authors. . . lest original authors lose incentive to create new works that will also benefit the public interest."