Thursday, April 17, 2008

How Much Money Is Enough?

This past week, Harry Potter author, JK Rowling, has been testifying in court in a suit she brought against a fan, Steve Vander Ark, and publisher RDR Books, for attempting to turn Vander Ark's long-established website, The Harry Potter Lexicon, into print version. The Harry Potter Lexicon is a popular reference site to the popular book series.

Rowling claimed that publication of the lexicon has "gutted" her plans to publish a comprehensive Harry Potter Encyclopedia and that Vander Ark's book would be plagiarism. Vander Ark's publisher contends that the books would fall under a fair use allowable by law for reference books.

I don't buy Rowling's contention. First of all, Vander Ark's Lexicon is simply a handy guide to the Harry Potter world; it only arranges Rowling's own words by topic in encyclopedia form to make it easier for fans to look up things. He doesn't claim that he wrote any of the original material. In other words, he's an arranger, not a composer. Anthony Falzone, the attorney representing the book's publisher, countered that the encyclopedia, meant to be a companion to the books or the films, not only does not diminish the original novels, but actually enhances the enjoyment of them. Falzone said the point of the Lexicon is "to organise and discuss the complicated and very elaborate world of Harry Potter". Indeed, what's the point of buying the Lexicon, if one does not buy the original books first?

Secondly, the Lexicon was not meant to supplant Rowling's planned Encyclopedia and cannot for one simple reason. His Lexicon is limited to material already revealed in the books. Rowling's Encyclopedia, on the other hand, will contain background information not included in the books that will flesh out what has already been written. This information was not included in the novels so that the novels would flow better and for reasons of avoiding excessive verbosity. Rowling's Encyclopedia, above all, will answer all the unanswered questions readers still had after finishing the final novel. Most Harry Potter fans will want a copy of both the Lexicon and the Encyclopedia and, if made to choose, nearly all would choose Rowling's book over Vander Ark's.

Rowling has said "This isn't about money." I don't buy that, either. For one thing, the Lexicon site has been online since 2002 and Rowling never complained about it until Vander Ark planned to turn the site into a book. Warner Bros. had even flown him to the set of the fifth Harry Potter movie and used his lexicon every day during production, without Rowling objecting to his role as a consultant.

Earlier today it was announced that Judge Robert Patterson advised Rowling to settle her dispute with Vander Ark out of court.

Having read the various news articles about this case in the last few days begs the question: How much money is enough? JK Rowling is already the richest woman in the UK, considerably richer than the Queen herself. Her suit against Vander Ark, whose internet Lexicon has only served to help increase popularity of Rowling's books, smacks of petty greed in my view. She'd be much better off if she simply let it go and not fret over any small profit Vander Ark could gain from the publication of the Lexicon, as it could only be a paltry sum compared to her fortune.

This is just my opinion and your mileage may vary, of course.


Winter said...

I think I agree with you. However, it's widely been known that she's not very tolerant of anyone who writes anything about Harry. There are a host of authors out there who don't allow fanfic because they are so very protective of their characters. I remember reading all kinds of rules re this at JR Ward's message board when I joined up. I'm sure some of Rowling's problem is the money issue, but I'd bet it's not all of it.

transfattyacid said...

I'm just glad that I have never - and certainly will never now - give this woman any of my money.

This whole thing smacks of Gina Ford syndrome.

She is the child 'guru' who threatened to shut down a parents forum because they allowed people to write nasty things about her and her methods. Yet for some reason she has no problem with Amazon publishing far worse comments on there website.

And JK Rowling should remember that she was illegally claiming benefits (it's a technical thing) while working on her first novel and no one kicked up a a stink about that. So for her to launch this action is pretyy much churlishness.