Harry Potter Lexicon – Copyright Infringement or Fair Use?

Steven Vander Ark has compiled a lexicon of Harry Potter characters, architecture of Hogwarts, magic spells and equipment. 

In a much publicised case, Ms. Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, and the author of the series about the adolescent magician’s schooldays, has sued Mr Vander Ark in a Manhattan court, claiming copyright infringement.

There is no doubt that Mr Vader Ark has copied very many extracts from the books. that is what a lexicographer does. WIll it affect sales of Ms Rowling’s books? unlikely. A lexicon or encyclopedic work that is arranged alphabetically, tends to lack the plot structure of the original.

Ms Rowling claims that she intended publishing a definitive dictionary herself. Hardly relevant. If such a book has not been written yet, Mr Vander Ark cannot be basing his research on it.

I’d be inclined to advise him to get a life, but that would be unfair. Many people are enjoying second lives on the Internet, and he should be allowed to enjoy a fantasy world if that is what makes him happy.

Without wishing to diminish Ms Rowling’s achievements in any way, and I am a fan – I think we should all be aware of the debt she owes to previous authors of British children’s literature.

The boarding school genre is well established, with Buckeridge’s series about Jennings, Blyton’s series about St Clares, the Fifth Form at Saint Dominic’s, and Tom Brown’s schooldays.

Abandoned children escaping into fantasy worlds pre-date Rowling. A good example is CS Lewis’s Narnia series, accessed by evacuated schoolchildren sent to the country to escape the blitz. In Bedknobs and Broomsticks, other evacuees ran into a trainee witch who was learning the art by correspondence course.

The doorway that Potter’s guardian Sirius disappeared through seems more than reminiscent of a door described by HG Wells…

Magician’s with pet owls are encountered in the Sword in the Stone.

We are all dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, and I think derivative work is generally in the public interest.


Categories: Copyright, Intellectual Property, News, Opinion

2 replies

  1. I think the thing you’re missing here is how much of the book Rowling herself wrote.

    Read this, in particular the last two pages. These are actual court filings for the case. Rowling’s material comprises over 90% of the total word count of the book.


    How could that possibly constitute fair use?

  2. If in fact OVER 90% if the total word count of the book is Rowling’s material, that is pushing way past “fair use”…just my opinion.

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