Fan accused of plagiarizing J.K. Rowling cries on stand

By Carol Eisenberg

April 16, 2008 at 11:31am

A Harry Potter fan who sought to publish an encyclopedic guide to the series about the boy wizard broke down and cried on the witness stand yesterday as he faced his idol J.K. Rowling.

Steven Vander Ark, a former school librarian who created “The Harry Potter Lexicon,” based on a website of the same name, said he feels ostracized from the wizard fan community and regrets his decision to write the guide for RBR Books, a small Michigan publishing house.

A day earlier, Rowling came near to tears as she described what she called “wholesale theft” of her work by RDR Books, according to a report in the Times of London.

“I really don’t want to cry because I’m British,” she said. “. . .These characters meant so much to me - and continue to mean so much to me - over such a long period of time. It’s very difficult for someone who is not a writer to understand. The closest I can come is to say to someone: ‘How do you feel about your child?’

Last fall, Rowling and Warner Brothers, which owns the film rights to the Harry Potter series, brought suit against RDR Books of Muskegon, Mich. and its owner Roger Rapoport to stop publication of The Lexicon. They contend the book, written by Vander Ark and several others, merely repackages Rowling’s work and, unlike the free fan site on which it is based, seeks to make money from her work. Vander Ark is not a party to the suit.

Comparing almost identical passages of Vander Ark’s Lexicon with her own work, Rowling criticized his “constant pilfering” and “utter laziness.”

She also complained the book interferes with her plan to publish a Harry Potter encyclopedia and then donate the proceeds to charity, as she has already done with her two smaller guides - “Quidditch Through the Ages” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

RDR Books and Rapoport argue that literary reference guides are protected under U.S. fair use laws, which generally permits literary reference guides.

“Ms 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 this is a right no court has ever recognized” said Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. which is representing the publisher.

“That would threaten not just reference guides but encyclopedias, glossaries, indexes and other tools that provide useful information about copyrighted works.”

The publisher also contends that the Harry Potter Lexicon provides fresh insights into characters such as Luna Lovegood and Draco Malfoy as well as pointing out the author’s occasional mistakes — such as having caracter Marcus Flint spend eight years at Hogwarts, even though the school has only seven years.

The book’s release has been delayed pending the outcome of the suit which will be decided by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Patterson .

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