Saturday, January 5, 2008

USA Today/AP reports today that the Stanford Law Group has joined the case regarding Steve Van der Ark's case on the publication of the HP Lexicon in print. They are siding with Steve:

A group of crusading intellectual property lawyers at Stanford Law School say they will help defend a small publishing house being sued by author J.K. Rowling over its plan to print an unauthorized companion guide to her Harry Potter series.

The Fair Use Project at Stanford's Center for Internet and Society announced Tuesday that it had signed on to aid the defense of Michigan-based RDR Books, which had planned to release The Harry Potter Lexicon this fall.

The book's publication has been blocked by the lawsuit. Rowling and Warner Bros., which produces the Harry Potter movies and holds the copyright on the seven novels, have argued that the lexicon borrows too heavily from the books and amounts to copyright and trademark infringement.

Fair Use Project Executive Director Anthony Falzone said the lexicon is protected by U.S. rules that have long given people "the right to create reference guides that discuss literary works, comment on them and make them more accessible."

You can read the rest here.

Some first thoughts.

If WB wins this case, websites are next. The Lexicon existed as long as it was “free publicity” for WB and would have been a public relations disaster if WB tried (as it did in the early years – remember all the threats about using images online – Disney did shut it all down, if you are old enough to remember?).

The whole realm of intellectual property law is exploding, especially with the new “markets” online. As we’ve seen in Jo’s interviews and with this lawsuit, controlling the intellectual property is very important for maintaining absolute control of the marketing (and exploiting for profit) of the property.

When it appeared that shutting down the websites or severely limiting what fans were permitted to do with the intellectual property (i.e., the Harry Potter books) was a public relations disaster, they backed off. Instead, rather brilliantly I might add as you can see here at Leaky, they completely changed their marketing strategy and decided to use the websites to broaden and deepen the market. So WB has been very “helpful” in not shutting down websites because they smartly realized that the fansites actually were excellent marketing tools.

But now that the books are completed and controlling the property’s management becomes a crucial component in long-term marketing strategies, a site like the Lexicon going into print becomes a huge threat to the franchise. If the book is published, it will set a precedent for other materials now on websites going into print. The internet is still in a “Wild Wild West” mode and nearly anything goes. As I said before, companies like WB have learned that investing (even if that means not suing) fansites has been a marketing bonanza for them. But precedent will be set if fansites start publishing their works in print.

I have several encyclopedias for Harry Potter on my bookshelf, published before WB turned their attention to controlling the property once the series were completed. What may have behooved Steve in publishing the Lexicon would be for WB to back it, but then he would have lost creative control of the work and would be merely the “frontman” and not the actually creative director. There’s just no way, with this present generation of executives, for fans to be given creative control over their works like encyclopedias or extensive commentaries (unless the parent company of WB publishes them) – those days have ended.

One could make the case that Jo was encouraged to go on Pottercast to make sure fans don’t realize the long-term effects that will happen to their own freedom of expression on the internet with creating artwork and stories based on the Harry Potter series. If it is shutdown in print, then it will be shut down online. International companies like the one WB belongs too understands that the relationship between print media and online media should be seamless. That is not the case right now – Congress has continued to refrain from placing the same limitations on the internet that now apply to print and broadcast media (though that is changing).

There is a connection I think between this case and the one now going on regarding loading your CDs into iTunes for your iPod. Music Companies are now in court making the case that loading your personally purchased CDs on to your own personal computer and then used in your own personal iPod is stealing.

This is what is happening now and though I know we are not lawyers or executives, we’re probably all still voters and consumers and so we need to be watching these things very carefully. Note how not one of the candidates running for president is talking about this stuff. But for the “internet generation” this is very important.

That day may come when the generation now reading MuggleNet or at Leaky grow up and become executives at WB. But that will be a long, long, time and by then Harry Potter will be on the shelf like Winne the Pooh.

Unless Steve wins this case. Then all bets are off. No wonder Stanford took the case. They get it.

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