All's fair again at Hogwarts

Judge backs Rowling and WB, blocks unauthorized 'Potter' compendium

A federal judge Monday ruled in favor of "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling and Time Warner's Warner Bros. Entertainment in a widely watched legal case that centered on how broadly to define fair use of copyrighted material.

After four months of deliberation, Judge Robert Patterson of the New York Southern District ruled that a planned unauthorized Potter compendium, compiled by Steven Vander Ark and set to be published by RDR Books, must not be published as it would infringe Rowling's copyright. He issued an injunction to stop the publication, arguing it used too much of Rowling's material to make for fair use.

The planned "Harry Potter Lexicon" had grown out of a Web site for Potter sleuths and fans.

Arguing that the compendium would cause Rowling irreparable harm, the judge also awarded her and Warners $6,750 in statutory damages.

However, he emphasized that compendium works in general should be encouraged.

"I took no pleasure at all in bringing legal action and am delighted that this issue has been resolved favorably," Rowling said. "I went to court to uphold the right of authors everywhere to protect their own original work."

Warners also lauded the decision. "As a content company, it is imperative that we work vigorously on all fronts to protect the intellectual property rights of those who create the stories and characters, words, pictures and music that entertain and benefit the worldwide audience," Warners said.

RDR Books said it was "obviously disappointed" and that it is considering all of its options. Legal experts said these could include an appeal, a request to stay the injunction and a riskier modification of the compendium.

"The case highlights that fair use is one of the most difficult areas of copyright law," said Aaron Moss, a partner and copyright expert at Greenberg Glusker. "These cases are always very fact-intensive and get decided on a case-by-case basis." However, he said the ruling made it more likely that legal counsel would in the future advise against publication of compendiums of popular works because of the higher risk.

Rowling plans to write her own Potter compendium. (partialdiff)