Tuesday, April 15, 2008

JK Rowling takes the stand

JK Rowling appeared in court in New York today to testify in her case against the publication of the book, The Harry Potter Lexicon (hence known as HPL). Michigan man, Steve Vander Ark, started the HPL on the net in 2000 to compile together a resource of information on everything to do with Potter’s world. It contained family trees of the characters, lists of spells and information about the books. The site was praised by Rowling, who admitted to using it to check her information when writing her books, and by Warner Brothers who make the HP movies. However, when the man behind the HPL decided to publish it as a reference book for HP fans, JK and Warner Bros took umbrage and took the HPL publishers to court. Rowling says that she wants to publish her own HP encyclopedia (and give the money to charity) and it seems that she doesn’t want any competition.

From a consumer’s point of view, I don’t know what the fuss is about. If I were a fan of the HP series I would happily buy BOTH the HPL and whatever future encyclopedia Rowling brings out. I certainly have my fair share of official and unofficial X File reference guides and I know for obsessive fans, of which I am sure there are more than a few million in the HP camp, it doesn’t matter if there is information duplication, you still want to have the complete collection.

From a writer’s point of view, I still don’t know what the fuss is about. When you write a book, and especially when you write a series of books as successful as the HP books have been, you can’t expect to control everything that is said and done about them. The HPL is a reference book, a resource and guide compiled lovingly by fans. It is not plagiarism and it does not seem to be some hasty cash in. It is hard to say how I would react in the same situation but if in years from now an unofficial encyclopedia on Reath is published, I don’t think I would object. After all, there is always room for commentary and compilation of your work and it will never compare to something you have written yourself because you are the author and you hold the secrets to your world. If you haven’t already made it up, you can always make up something new.

It makes me wonder why JK Rowling has taken this case to court in the first place. On the surface it seems to be about money. It appears she doesn’t want anyone else making profit from her work. HP has been so successful; you would think she could afford to be generous. Whatever her reasons, she isn’t coming out of the whole situation well. She has claimed to be so upset by the whole case that she is having trouble writing her next book and has said she won’t write her own planned encyclopedia if the HPL goes ahead. Things like that smack of emotional blackmail to me. The case also has serious implications if she wins. It means that authors will have much greater control over what people say about their work. It means that reviews, reference books and guides will have to get express permission from the original author and perhaps even pay large amounts of money to be allowed to be published. It means that authors will be able to monopolise their work and an ultimate death to all unofficial companions. To me, that is a bad thing. I hope JK Rowling doesn’t win.


Valpot said...

A very thoughtful analysis.

I agree totally. Also I think it is probably foolish as well. Extra books like this tend to increase interest (if possible) for the topic, so I could only see a benefit for the HP empire.

Maybe the case is being driven by the publishers?? (Or is it the same publishers for both, as in the Dan Brown case?)

It seems a bit mean of JK, especially if she has already admitted to using the on-line resource! It's not like he's written the next book in the series!

Valpot said...

PS I like your new article in Helium, though it's so sad!

Good to see you update your profile - that must have been fun!

Inkpot said...

Thanks Valpot. I don't think Bloomsbury (Rowling's publishers) have anything to do with the case. I think it is being taken by JK and Warner Bros. The lexicon is certainly not being published by the same people. This has to be bad press for JK. She is coming across as greedy and petty and I can't imagine her fans will like that. Her threat not to write her own version is a mean ploy to turn her fans against the lexicon. Thanks for looking at Helium. Glad you liked the article.