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.


  1. I think JKR is in the right in this one. It’s been known for several years that she’s been planning on making an encyclopedia, and that the proceeds would all go to charity. She’s supported the website version of this in the past, it’s the fact that Vander Ark wants to put it in print for personal gain that’s the issue. If the fans can access the same information for free online, then publishing a book is exploiting them.

    Additionally, a lot of the information on the website is either incorrect of outdated, and as the book would be unofficial, he could end up providing fans with the wrong information. When JKR publishes her book, not only will everything be correct, but she’ll be adding information not in the books to provide further insight.

    It’s true, Vander Ark publishing his book most likely wouldn’t hurt sales of JKR’s book, but that’s not what she’s upset about. She’s upset that he’s using her intellectual property to exploit not only herself, but her fans for personal gain.

    Comment by Mollie — February 29, 2008 @ 10:23 am

  2. Exploiting?

    If the fans can access the same information for free online, then publishing a book is exploiting them.

    The same information is available for free, so making a book is exploiting … because somebody would twist fans’ arms to make them buy it?

    As for your other points, *any* time you buy a book or believe the contents of a website you are taking a chance on the credibility of the content. Anybody with rudimentary reading skills can see that “Steven Vander Ark” is not the same name as “J.K. Rowling” and should make their decisions accordingly when trusting what he says about her work. That applies to any book, any time, anywhere.

    It’s true, Vander Ark publishing his book most likely wouldn’t hurt sales of JKR’s book, but that’s not what she’s upset about. She’s upset that he’s using her intellectual property to exploit not only herself, but her fans for personal gain.

    How do you know what she is or is not upset about? There are ads at the HP Lexicon site and a PayPal donation button. Clearly he makes at least a little bit of money from it even now. A book may or may not make more, but nobody’s forcing anybody to buy it. It’s nice that Rowling can afford to donate the proceeds of whatever book she ends up putting out to charity, but if you’re going to set up the premise that people can’t write about things they have studied and know a lot about for personal gain, then again, you’ve just deprived half of academia (at least) of their jobs. This is just a silly premise.

    Comment by Anwyn — February 29, 2008 @ 10:56 am

  3. If you want the full details on the lawsuit, visit this sight:

    It has very clear details that describe exactly what Vander Ark is doing that is illegal. Maybe I didn’t express myself in a very clear way, but it’s obvious that what he’s doing is not right, and most of the fans seem to agree.

    JKR actually reserved the right to write the encyclopedia, additionally, more than of Vander Ark’s book lifts straight from the series (2,034 entries out of a total 2,437 are lifted), as well as lifting straight from references like Webster’s dictionary without acknowledgement. His defense claims that not only is his book not the first of it’s kind (it is, as all other encyclopedia’s out there on series either were written by the author or had the author’s consent), but that it is also an analysis. However, much of the analysis comes from fans who posted on the site, not knowing it would be used by someone else for profit without their names attached.

    Additionally, Vander Ark’s testimony is extremely hypocritical as the prosecution has examples of statements he made in the past saying he created the HP Lexicon website specifically to deter other fans from publishing their own encyclopedia’s because in his own words

    “It might interest you to know that George Beahm [a third party author] commented that he had originally intended to write an encyclopedia of Harry Potter (which Jo has specifically reserved for herself, I understand) but seeing the Lexicon convinced him not to bother. I want you to know that one of the express purposes of the Lexicon is to dissuade people from that sort of thing, so I was particularly happy to hear him say that.”

    He has also made clear in the past that he had no intention of publishing his website: “I won’t publish…in any form except online. [Ms. Rowling is] entitled to that market, not me and not [another author.]”

    This is not a case of Vander Ark thinking there was nothing wrong with publishing his book, as he previously held the opinion that JKR was the only one with the right to do so.

    Comment by Mollie — February 29, 2008 @ 12:09 pm

  4. Many of those facts change the case substantially. But I do have one question before I dive into the entry you linked and some other things: How do you know what analysis is in Ark’s book and who wrote it? That would be a case to be prosecuted by the people whose words he is lifting, not JKR.

    Comment by Anwyn — February 29, 2008 @ 12:46 pm

  5. In terms of the analysis, on the website, essays are signed by their authors, and it is those essays that were put into the book. Until JKR brought this to light in her case against him, many did not know Vander Ark was planning to put this in his book. I’m sure that if Vander Ark gets published, he will be sued for plagiarism by some of those people. JKR isn’t suing him for that, but it is relevant to the case since a lot of what she feels about it (based on the link I gave) seems to be in respect to her fans. She doesn’t want something associated with her (and it would be, since it’s Harry Potter) to hurt her fans in any way.

    Comment by Mollie — February 29, 2008 @ 1:01 pm

  6. “JKR isn’t suing him for that, but it is relevant to the case since a lot of what she feels about it (based on the link I gave) seems to be in respect to her fans. She doesn’t want something associated with her (and it would be, since it’s Harry Potter) to hurt her fans in any way.”

    I’d feel she was more sincere in her concern for her fans if she didn’t “out” Dumbledore after the books were published. How does that help a 10-year-old reader?

    She can hire the big guns, Vander Ark can’t. Skilled PR and legal professionals can make anything seem right. I’m going to stay cynical about this a little while longer.

    Comment by Anne — February 29, 2008 @ 2:54 pm

  7. I don’t think there was anything wrong with her outing Dumbledore. She was asked a specific question pertaining his love life and she answered honestly. It doesn’t change my view of him and it really shouldn’t change anyone elses. If a 10-year-old can handle reading Deathly Hallows (with all the torture and murder and other dark themes and parallels to political things like the Holocaust) than certainly can handle finding out Dumbledore loved a man. If you have a problem with the latter, you should certainly have a problem with the former, and maybe you should wait to give your kids a book with such heavy themes.

    As for staying cynical, that’s fine. I just wanted to make sure that you were fully informed in your argument.

    Comment by Mollie — February 29, 2008 @ 4:19 pm

  8. I’m fairly sure I’m not at all fully informed. It would be skirting on lunacy for any publishing company to publish anything written by anybody other than the author whose name will be on the work (Vander Ark’s, I presume) without the willing cooperation and compensation of those authors, so I’m having trouble accepting that as fact without more corroboration. And still, as I say, if it’s known that that’s being contemplated, those authors should protest–moreover, I don’t think it’s clear that Rowling would have any standing in a proceeding of that nature. And it’s possible that, if it’s true that the material being published is by other authors without their consent or without compensation offered, that a) They’ve come to an arrangement with these other people or b) Vander Ark had something when they came aboard that said all work would become the property of the Lexicon (which would be lunacy for anybody to be on board with that, but some people are willing to do so for the possibility of being published and read). If A, then again Rowling shouldn’t have any standing, and if B, then that just makes Vander Ark a jerk, but not necessarily an illegal one.

    Comment by Anwyn — March 1, 2008 @ 9:35 am

  9. Fairy tales have very unsettling conflicts between good and evil, as do these books. I think good and evil can be encountered and processed at a much earlier age than sexual orientation can be.

    Anybody who claims “concern for readers” sounds like she’s speaking through a PR mouthpiece.

    Comment by Anne — March 3, 2008 @ 10:39 am

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