J.K. Rowling has really done it now. Dumbledore gay? Meh only news and comment for sadly deluded individuals who see somebody’s sexuality as shocking. However her recent lawsuit against RDR Books and Steve VanderArk’s print edition of the Harry Potter Lexicon is truly astounding.
Steve VanderArk who runs the incomparable Harry Potter Lexicon and who spoke at the recent Sextus conference has found himself in legal hot water. Recently he got a contract with RDR Books to publish a print version of his incredibly useful online lexicon. Even JK Rowling has used this online resource. So what was hers and Warner Bros reaction? You would have thought a certain amount of joy at efforts to provide a requested resource. To file suit on RDR to stop publication which the publisher has agreed to do pending legal ruling.
In a statement on her site, Rowling commented:
“From what I understand, the proposed book is not criticism or review of Harry Potter’s world, which would be entirely legitimate â€“ neither I nor anybody connected with Harry Potter has ever tried to prevent such works being published. It is, we believe, a print version of the website, except now the information that was freely available to everybody is to become a commercial enterprise.
It is not reasonable, or legal, for anybody, fan or otherwise, to take an author’s hard work, re-organize their characters and plots, and sell them for their own commercial gain. However much an individual claims to love somebody else’s work, it does not become theirs to sell.”
This is interesting in that the critical books on Harry Potter that I have have notices on them disclaiming any relationship to the universe, something that the other books that I have on other universes and authors like Buffy, Stephen King and what not do not have. Clearly some publishers (and I dare say producers of other universe linked items) feel threatened by the heavy legal team that appears to have accreated around the author. These are works of literary criticism and reference works and so fall under the fair use act. As does, in my view, the print edition of the Lexicon.
Vander Ark created the Lexicon out of curiosity and it is a free resource. As I understand this will not change at all with publication. The online version will be there and I suspect it will be updated should the need arise. It relies upon donations (and I do hope that it makes enough to cover its costs). It does not reorganize the plot or characters but does provide a useful touchstone if one needs to find out what’s going on. There is a market for print versions of reference books though as various publishers appear to find out, its smaller than imagined. Maybe the collectors market might go a little nuts for completion sake. Who knows? As I understand it the creators of the list have put in their own money and time so far, so I cannot personally see why responding to requests for a print version is a bad thing.
For JK Rowling to turn around and stab somebody in the back like this is truly mindboggling. It opens some truly horrific doors if succesful in terms of writing about and referencing author creations and universes. These do not bear thinking about without a shudder of fear running down the spine as somebody who is actively writing a history of fantasy in children’s literature. Vander Ark’s book is a work of reference not fan fiction or similar. It does not reorganize plots or use characters.
Rowling is certainly in the moral quagmire on this issue. I thought it was bad when injunctions were slapped on families and children who’d accidentally been sold an early copy of the sixth book but this goes even further beyond the pale.