J.K. Rowling recently won a high profile copyright infringement case in the US which concerned an over ambitious fan who compiled The Harry Potter Lexicon. The published article was to be an encyclopaedia of Potter terms.
Ms Rowling and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc, who own the intellectual property rights to the books and films, sued the compiler, Steve Vander Ark and the publisher RDR Books. Until this point, Ms Rowling had been highly positive about Mr Vander Ark's website of the same name.
In support of her case, Ms Rowling stated during her testimony in April that the unauthorised work would simply amount to a rearrangement of her work and would amount to "wholesale theft of 17 years of my hard work".
RDR Books relied on the "fair use" doctrine as its primary defence. However, the court stated that too much of Ms Rowling's creative work had been copied. Creative work enjoys a higher level of protection than factual work. The defence of "fair use" was found not to apply on the basis that the "new" work being created must be significantly different from the original work. In this case, it was not. The judge stated that the Lexicon copied the distinctive style of language used by Ms Rowling "in excess of its otherwise legitimate purpose of creating a reference guide." This does raise the question as to how someone can create a reference guide to the work of another without risking infringement.
Another part of the equation was that Ms Rowling had plans to create an encyclopaedia herself, and that the Lexicon would affect the viability of that project. The judge stated that the printed version of Mr Vander Ark's compilation "would impair the market for derivative works that Rowling is entitled or likely to license". Additionally, she had already published companion books, and their profile could be adversely affected.
The ruling also enforces the point that it is the copyright owner who ultimately has the ability to determine when they believe their copyright has been violated.
The case resulted in many tears being spilled, a permanent ban on the published version of the encyclopaedia, and a $6,750 damages award.