J.K. Rowling wins copyright suit

Author filed claim over 'Harry Potter Lexicon'

NEW YORK -- A federal judge here 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 revolved around 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that a planned unauthorized Potter compendium, compiled by Steven Vander Ark and set to be published by RDR Books, must not be published as it would infringe Rowling's copyright.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," adding 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 and Warners filed the lawsuit late last year, which led to three emotional trial days that also saw Rowling take the stand. The case put the spotlight on the balance between free speech and copyright. The author has said she plans to write her own Potter compendium in the future.

"This is an important decision to creators everywhere," said Patrick Ross, executive director of the Copyright Alliance. "Rowling has entertained the world with the creativity of her Hogwarts universe and she has the exclusive right to continue sharing with readers around the world the mysteries from the 'Harry Potter' books."

Other copyright experts also said Monday's ruling doesn't make the fair use space easier to navigate.

"This really does not clarify the existing tenets of copyright law or the fair use affirmative defense but, rather, represents the result of the court's factual analysis and inquiry under these circumstances," said Justin Wineburgh, head of law firm Cozen O'Connor's sports & entertainment law practice. "It does, however, reaffirm the notion that creators of content, when building on previously existing copyrighted material, must precisely do that -- build, and not simply restate."

The judge found that the compendium "appropriated too much of Rowling's creative work for its purposes as a reference guide," making it only a derivative rather than a transformative work, he explained.

Lawyer Marco Randazza, who also serves as professor of entertainment and copyright law at Barry University School, said about the Rowling decision in the Southern District of New York: "The Second Circuit has, since (a previous) Castle Rock (ruling, had a bizarre view on fair use, and this case simply follows the incorrect ruling in Castle Rock."