Earlier this month, billionaire author J.K. Rowling was on the witness stand, alleging copyright infringement against a fan web site she once praised. The Harry Potter Lexicon, a fan site with essays, commentary and explanations, is maintained by Steven Vander Ark. Vander Ark is being represented in the litigation by Anthony Falzone, an attorney who heads up Stanford University's Fair Use Project.
This morning I read sci-fi author Orson Scott Card's well-written and truly damning critique of J.K. Rowling's behavior in this litigation. Card points out that all creative works borrow from what came before them, a point that seems like it should not be difficult to absorb. Mike Masnick at Techdirt excerpts the best parts, and I have reproduced his selection below, but as he says, it's really worth reading the whole thing.
"This frivolous lawsuit puts at serious risk the entire tradition of commentary on fiction. Any student writing a paper about the Harry Potter books, any scholarly treatise about it, will certainly do everything she's complaining about. Once you publish fiction, Ms. Rowling, anybody is free to write about it, to comment on it, and to quote liberally from it, as long as the source is cited.... She let herself be talked into being outraged over a perfectly normal publishing activity, one that she had actually made use of herself during its web incarnation. Now she is suing somebody who has devoted years to promoting her work and making no money from his efforts -- which actually helped her make some of her bazillions of dollars. Talent does not excuse Rowling's ingratitude, her vanity, her greed, her bullying of the little guy, and her pathetic claims of emotional distress."
Joe Nocera of the New York Times wrote a great column a few months ago about the Harry Potter lawsuit and fair use which suggests that Ms. Rowling may be surrounded by people who misunderstand the role of the press in a free society. He wrote:
During my conversation with her representative, Mr. Blair, he pointed me to Ms. Rowling’s Web site, suggesting that would be the best place to find her response to the RDR Books case and the Harry Potter Lexicon. “You have our permission to quote from her Web site,” he said.
I already have that right, Mr. Blair. But thanks anyway.