Wednesday, 10 September 2008

On J.K. Rowling's Awfully Bad Copyright Victory

Just as in Prince Hamlet's Denmark, there is something rotton in the state of copyright law.

The victory of J.K. Rowling in her copyright case - see here - is disturbing.

The reference book in question does not copy lengthy passages from Rowling's works. Instead the book provides an informative reference work based on a collaborative website.

But J.K. Rowling wanted to use the law to ban the book, and she has (so far) succeeded.

In my opinion, this is an abuse of copyright law. If cases like this succeed then copyright law, at least in the United States, is as in dire need of reform as their tort (ie, personal injury) law.

I like the Harry Potter novels. I have read them all. The last few I have bought and read on the day of publication. I am not one of those who sneer at her readable style or anguish at her commercial success. She deserves every penny she has earned from the novels.

(Indeed, in Sirius Black, she has created an ideal godfather that those - like me - who are destined only ever to be godfathers can hope to achieve.)

The Harry Potter works are good stuff, and such an original creation warrants legal protection, but Rowling's intellectual property rights should not extend too far.

But they have done on this occasion.

A reference book about the world of Harry Potter should not be within the scope of her copyright protection. If it is, then there is no reason in principle why any copyrighted work should not be protected from being the subject of a reference work.

A reference work, by its very nature, needs to expressly refer to elements of the original text.

And it is no excuse - no excuse at all - for Rowling to witter on that she wanted to do such a reference book herself, with the proceeds "going to charity". (Or is that "charidee"? ) The fact that her exploitation of any copyright will go to a certain end does not logically confer to her a prior copyright.

As Prince Hamlet's mate Macbeth almost said: "Is this a gross abuse of copyright law I see before me?"


Smarter Than The Average said...

Anyone with more than a passing interest in the arts, criticism and archiving should be concerned about this outcome. Will this affect America's centuries-old concept of fair-use? Will it have a knock-on effect on our own 'fair deal' defense?

HolfordWatch said...

It's so helpful that you posted on this issue. I've been thinking for a while that it would be helpful if some of the standard sceptic issues could be compiled into essentially a hyperlinked concordance of reference work that involves useful blog posts, web sites etc.

Apart from the issue of it being a huge amount of work (and it isn't as if rational wiki is over-run with volunteers, mostly because that involves de novo writing rathe than the sort of indexing I had in mind) it would be an extra pestilence if there were substantial copyright issues.

Cirkux said...

Off topic, but Sirius Black as an ideal? Surely not! I like my godfathers to be not so much violent bullies...

Helen Barnard said...

"Deserves every penny"!!! *wipes away tears and stitches sides back together*
Sorry, it's not at all germane to the copyright point, but "deserving" doesn't really come into it when the individual earns (so it has been reported, so it is undoubtedly true) £3million a week!!