Rowling v. RDR Books

We defended the publisher of the Harry Potter Lexicon against suit from J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers.

The Harry Potter Lexicon began as a website on which contributors collected information about people, places and things that inhabited the Harry Potter universe – as described in J.K. Rowling’s books, the movies based on those books, and other associated products.  It grew into what is widely regarded as the most complete and authoritative guide to the world of Harry Potter, attracting upwards of 25 million visitors per year.  In light of the website’s popularity, the Lexicon’s editor Steve Vander Ark decided to publish it in book form, and RDR Books agreed to do so.  Upon learning of this, Ms. Rowling and Warner Brothers filed suit against RDR, alleging claims for copyright and trademark infringement, and seeking to enjoin publication of the Lexicon in printed form.  We signed on to help defend RDR because we believed the fair use doctrine protected RDR’s right to publish the Lexicon. 

Following a bench trial, in September 2008, in a thoughtful and meticulous decision spanning 68 pages, Judge Robert P. Patterson of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York recognized that as a general matter authors do not have the right to stop publication of reference guides and companion books about literary works, and issued an important explanation of why reference guides are not derivative works.  However, the Court held that, as it was then drafted, the Lexicon infringed Ms. Rowling's copyright, was not protected by fair use.  After the Court’s decision, Steve Vander Ark created a new Lexicon manuscript that addressed some of the concerns expressed by J.K. Rowling at trial, and those expressed by Judge Patterson in his decision.  Vander Ark’s Lexicon was *published* in January 2009.