Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Goblet of Lawsuits

There's a court case brewing against Harry Potter's author and publisher over allegations that JK Rowling stole concepts and ideas for Goblet of Fire from a 36-page self-published 1987 booklet called "Willy the Wizard". The suit alleges that the author of Willy sent his manuscript to Rowling's agent in '87 and 13 years later, shenanigans ensued. Among other things, the suit alleges that Willy's author originated the ideas of a wizarding tournament, problem-solving in the John and that wizards travel by train. From this remove, I'd say that this appears to be a dodgy proposition at best. The author of the novelette - or in this case, his estate - would have to prove that not only did Rowling's agent have the Willy manuscript, but that he passed it along to Rowling and that she strip-mined it into a book the size of a cinder block*. That seems to be quite a hurdle. It's possible that Rowling may find that her own plaint that Goblet of Fire was the hardest to write and that she got stuck midway through. Which just goes to show that you should never admit to writer's block. I'm not 100% familiar with UK copyright law, but in the United States, ideas and concepts are not protected by copyright. In a manner of speaking, it's the material execution of ideas that are protected in US copyright law. The moment you put it down on paper, it's theoretically protected as you executed it but not the ideas behind it. Ideas are in the air, not on the page. The bookshelves are alive with various treatments (and outright knockoffs) of popular ideas. Been into the Young Adult section of a bookstore recently? You can't toss a stake without knocking over a pile of Young Adult vampire novels hanging on Twilight's coattails, which would then tumble into the previous wave of Harry Potter inspired young wizards and witches. Not to mention that if concepts are protected under copyright, then a lot of people owe the Tolkien estate a metric boatload** of money. From where I sit, I see a world of recycled memes and this lawsuit feels to me like someone fishing for a big settlement. --- * 636 pages in the UK, 734 pages in the US according to Wikipedia ** equal to 1.45 Imperial Boatloads

1 comment:

  1. I remember reading about the authors of that apparantly non-fiction nonsense Holy blood holy grail, taking legal action against Dan Brown, alleging he stole the story for the Davinci code, from their book. The action was taken in a UK court rather than a US court? All silly really given that Brown's book ignited interest in theirs and added to their sales.
    On Twilight and Harry I wonder where Cassandra Clare fits in, since she began writing HP fanfic and went on to create a teenage fantasy that seems to echo many aspects of HP and some of Twilight.
    Enjoyed your musings. Stories do seem to be constantly retold in new and wonderful ways.


Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).