Harry Potter plagiarism case dismissed in U.S.

NEW YORK Fri Jan 7, 2011 8:16am EST

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling reads at the annual Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington April 5, 2010. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling reads at the annual Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington April 5, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit accusing "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling with copying the work of another author when writing "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."

The estate of late author Adrian Jacobs had said that the plot of the book, the fourth of seven in the wildly successful series that has been turned into a multi-billion-dollar film franchise, copied parts of the plot of his book "Willy the Wizard," including a wizard contest, and that Rowling borrowed the idea of wizards traveling on trains.

Scholastic Corp, the U.S. publisher of the books, welcomed the move by judge Shira Scheindlin, quoting the judge as saying "...the contrast between the total concept and feel of the works is so stark that any serious comparison of the two strains credulity."

"The Court's swift dismissal supports our position that the case was completely without merit and that comparing Willy the Wizard to the Harry Potter series was absurd," the firm said in a statement.

In October, a judge overseeing a similar plagiarism case at London's High Court said that the claims made by Paul Allen, trustee of Jacobs's estate, were "improbable," though he turned down an application by lawyers for Rowling and her British publisher for an immediate judgment dismissing the case.

According to his estate Jacobs, who wrote "The Adventures of Willy the Wizard -- No 1 Livid Land" in 1987, had at one point sought the services of literary agent Christopher Little, who later became Rowling's agent. It added that Jacobs died "penniless" in a London hospice in 1997.

Bloomsbury said Rowling had never heard of Jacobs's book before the copyright claim was first made in 2004, almost seven years after the publication of the first book in the highly publicized Harry Potter series.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by Daniel Magnowski)

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Comments (4)
jameshendry wrote:
one day she’ll get hers.

Jan 07, 2011 12:12pm EST  --  Report as abuse
As a writer, I have given the problem of stealing ideas a lot of careful thought. Of course, ideas presented to an agent, publisher, or reviewer are not maintained in some database to make sure the idea is never used again. One cannot copyright ideas in a literary work; it is the precise form in which an idea takes that might be subject to copyright.

If a wizard treats his apprentice to coffee at Starbucks in a novel presented to a publisher, the novel is rejected, and some years later a separate author writes about a wizard treating his apprentice to coffee at Starbucks, the first author does not own the idea. I mean, one could argue in court that Starbucks is a favorite hangout of wizards and their apprentices in modern times. The publisher may have rejected the first instance because the treatment seemed bland and uninspired; whereas the second author interjected pure magic into the moment in a novel that became a worldwide bestseller. One could argue the moment of the wizard sharing coffee with his apprentice was so amazing in the second instance, it didn’t matter what coffee establishment was the setting; it could have been Peet’s or even a small unknown coffee house.

Even if Rowling was somehow influenced by Jacobs’s work — perhaps because her agent suggested the idea that percolated all these years in his subconscious — what is the problem? If I’m a literary agent who reads and rejects a bland manuscript with a wizard who takes his apprentice to Starbucks, and years later I suggest a similar scene in the plot of a book sequel of my author client, and she uses that scene, can the estate of the first author claim ownership to the idea? Unless I willfully copied and pasted the scene from the first novel into the novel of my current author client, there is no plagiarism or intellectual theft. Otherwise, what would prevent “think tanks” from forming around the world for the sole purpose of brainstorming ideas, writing them down, then later suing any author that used that idea?

Jan 07, 2011 1:57pm EST  --  Report as abuse
wiiRmillonz wrote:
Re DisgustedReader

As a writer myself, I think your comment disingenuous. It is perfectly possible to steal another author’s work. It is also often done. The fact that an original work may be of little or inferior merit, or not as polished, is of no relevance. In this particular case, as in all cases where plagiarism is alleged, it would also be a good idea to read both works before expressing an opinion.

Jan 07, 2011 5:59pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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