Rowling: It’s Only “Legitimate Creative Activities” When You Don’t Earn Royalties

Filed under:Authors,Not Cool — posted by Anwyn on February 29, 2008 @ 6:59 am

J.K. Rowling sues publisher RDR Books and “feels betrayed” by Harry Potter Lexicon founder Steven Vander Ark because they intend to publish a print version of the same name. Seems Rowling was “accepting” of sites such as the HP Lexicon and others while they were thousands of dollars’ worth of excellent free marketing for her books but not so much now that they plan to publish a book that people will have to, you know, buy with money.

Rowling said she was especially irked that the site’s owner and the lexicon’s would-be publisher, RDR Books, continued to insist that her acceptance of free, fan-based Web sites justified the efforts.

“I am deeply troubled by the portrayal of my efforts to protect and preserve the copyrights I have been granted in the Harry Potter books,” she wrote in court papers filed Wednesday in a lawsuit she brought against the small Muskegon, Mich., publisher.

She said she intends to publish her own definitive Harry Potter encyclopedia.

“If RDR’s position is accepted, it will undoubtedly have a significant, negative impact on the freedoms enjoyed by genuine fans on the Internet,” she said. “Authors everywhere will be forced to protect their creations much more rigorously, which could mean denying well-meaning fans permission to pursue legitimate creative activities.”

Poppycock. Is there a copyright violation in the intended work, or is there not? If there is, then for sure there is a copyright violation in the web site, which therefore should have been shut down by legal force years ago. Something doesn’t comprise “legitimate creative activities” when free (and free marketing) on the web but amount to copyright violation only when there are royalties involved. That she would begin to object only when royalties were involved is only too human-nature obvious. And she has a somewhat overblown concept of authors’ rights if she expects to be able to trample what even she describes as “legitimate” work in the name of preventing outright copyright violation.

Is there a copyright violation? I don’t know (insert I Am Not a Lawyer boilerplate here). But on the surface it seems that if there is, then that standard would surely apply to sites like and the books I helped create based on that site. So what if Rowling plans to publish her own encyclopedia? Reference material can be copyrighted but surely not the right to create reference material. Suddenly half of academia would be out of business. Fiction utilizing the characters is different, but a publisher would have to be crazy to put any of that (mostly) swill into print for cash. And nobody really believes that upon publication of Rowling’s own encyclopedia, anybody would say “Oh, well, I already bought Vander Ark’s website in print form, so I don’t really need the definitive word from the author herself,” do they?

She added: “I find it devastating to contemplate the possibility of such a severe alteration of author-fan relations.”

Which is just a sentimental (or, in the British, treacly) way of saying “Our relations will be lovely so long as you do nothing that irritates me, whether it’s actually illegal or not.” Nice.

image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace