Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling yesterday prevailed in a federal copyright infringement lawsuit against a Web site operator who attempted to publish a reference guide for the children’s fantasy franchise.
U.S. District Judge Robert P. Patterson permanently barred publication of Michigan publisher Steve Vander Ark’s "The Harry Potter Lexicon" and awarded copyright owners Rowling and Warner Brothers $6,750 in statutory damages. Vander Ark, who began collecting Potter facts to build a fan Web site for the series, included detailed descriptions of Rowling’s original characters, creatures, spells and potions in his book.
Attorneys for Vander Ark admitted that his book copied portions of the Harry Potter novels, but argued that it was not infringement because the book was not "substantially similar" to the originals. Alternatively, they argued that the encyclopedia constituted a fair use of the copyrighted material.
Judge Patterson found that "The Harry Potter Lexicon" contained excessive, verbatim copying of material in the novels and that although the creation of reference guides can at times fall under the copyright exception for fair use, the Lexicon appropriated too much of Rowling’s work and thus was infringing.